Sunday, May 23, 2010

In Cheap We Trust, Lauren Weber (and an update)

Jo Hunter Adams

I recently finished this book, which outlines the history of "cheapness" (and consumption) in the USA. The history was great- but not entirely accessible- so I wanted to focus on the concept of "eco-cheapness", which comes up later in the book.

Eco-cheapness is the idea that reusing, recycling and doing without reduces waste and our carbon footprint. For example, using an older car might be more environmentally friendly than buying a new hybrid vehicle. One does NOT have to be wealthy in the U.S. to live [relative to others in North America] sustainably. Weber's comment on Whole Foods is that it has made a certain type of consumption fashionable.

Weber also highlights the tension between two messages Americans (read, westerners) receive: (1) Be frugal and save vs. (2) Be generous, to the point of being willing to take on debt to give. I love the incredible generosity that I've encountered in the U.S., and I'm learning a lot from it. My natural inclination with gift-giving is to identify necessities (according to my standards)-- I really struggle to give an extravagant gift. But generosity is not always about need-- some people feel most loved when they receive gifts. It's a struggle to figure out this tension. But, on a slightly different note, the last couple of weeks I've encountered examples of extraordinary generosity through meals my mother-in-law and friends from church have been bringing over. It's been exactly what Eug and I needed.

Freegans (those who get much of what they need from the waste stream) are a good example of extraordinary frugality and extraordinary generosity. What they find is fair game for anyone, yet they manage with very little actual money. This works particularly well in the U.S., where a huge amount of good stuff goes to landfills every day. Although I'm not close to being a freegan, admiring them from where I am on my journey helps change my consumption-cheapness reference point.

Some concrete things I wanted to re-commit to from this book: (1) The size of our apartment is probably our best example of eco-cheapness, so I'd like to make the best possible use of our space. Often, this means getting rid of unused things quickly, which is in tension with the goal of re-purposing things. For now, I think we just have to live in this tension, and use freecycle as much as possible. The biggest thing I'd like to take care of in our apartment is our stairwell, which is currently filled with junk after Noah's birth. (2) Figuring out ways to give good gifts without going into debt. (3) Using our garden (which we thought belonged to our downstairs neighbors) and (4) remembering that everything is relative-- our place is HUGE in most of the world.

Noah Updates
Noah grew a lot (yeah!) already and so we're ready to move on up to g-diapers and BumGenius 3.0. I'm also reading a book on (gentle) infant potty training and am trying it out (despite feeling a little tentative). The idea is that in most of the world, babies are trained to use a toilet (or equivalent) from a very young age. Why not in the West? The methods describe basically figuring out a baby's rhythm, and taking him to the bathroom at those times. The process is not at all punitive and there aren't specific expectations. I thought we could try it out, and the worst thing that can happen is that it doesn't work. Best case scenario-- fewer poopy diapers to wash!

We've been able to venture outside a couple of times, but unfortunately Noah has had to carried around in the car seat because it's so hot. Tonight it's supposed to cool down.

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