Wednesday, March 01, 2006

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?


doodles said...

YES!!! My husband and I live in an area where Mc mansions abound. We are somewhat house poor...we have a nice house, and we are constantly dreaming lf all the things we want to do to the house. All of the walls are still white, though. Hand-me down dining room set, 20" TV. We have done some things, but it's like the pressure is always there! he has a government job. Even though it is unlikely, they talk about laying people off. I secretly wish for it sometimes. We both look around sometimes and wonder what we are doing all of this for? I think it would be more difficult for him to let go, but it would be tough for both of us. We are sucked in, it's true. I don't know how to break away. I wish we were Amish!

Jamie said...

Hey, Amy, thank you for the mention.

I find that my level of comfort with living simply varies with the company I keep. I love our little house, but I felt a little self-conscious when one of my husband's high school friends came to visit. He's an ophthalmologist with a 5200 square-foot house. His finished basement (another 2800 square feet) could hold one and a half houses the size of mine.

We don't see a whole lot of my husband's high school friends. They've drifted apart, and I think the different priorities are part of it.

Amy in KC said...

Hello, Motown! I want to spend more time at your blog, but today is my first day back at work after maternity leave (you can tell I'm really nose-to-the-grindstone, eh?). I saw that Maggie is walking - so hard to believe! My boys were 10 weeks old on Saturday.

Back to work with me -- hope to "talk" more soon :o)

tripmom827 said...

Hi Amy! I just love reading your posts and can relate wholeheartedly to that inward struggle of wanting to have the simple life and teaching my children to apreciate the less finer things, but then really almost envying people who have the big house, SUV, etc. etc. I can remember telling Rob a few years back that I'd be happy as soon as we got the brand-new $350,000 house, with a brand-new Honda Odessey in the garage and all of us wearing designer clothes on our yearly trip to Disney World where we stay at the Finest Resort...that's all I want. Not too much. But, then I come to my senses and realize that I would be doing a disservice to myself and my children. I want my children to learn to be givers, not takers. I want them to learn that they have been given much (compared to many, many people in many other countries) and therefore, much is expected from them. Of course, I could also teach them that in designer clothes. (See, there I go again :) )