Lip Balm

The back pocket on a pair of jeans.

Image via Wikipedia

What’s in your pockets?

I’ve talked to people who have never used lip balm in their entire lives. What strange lives they must lead.

When I was a young boy watching my dad empty his pockets to undress for bed at night, his pockets always contained coins, a small pocket knife, and Chap Stick.

When I, as an adult, leave the house, I never leave without my wallet, cell phone, and Chap Stick. I don’t need the cell phone, but carry it for convenience. I do need my wallet since it holds my driver’s license and other necessities. But do I need the lip balm?

I’ve carried Chap Stick since my earliest days. It was in my pocket when I got on the bus to go to grade school, middle school, and high school, when I drove myself to college and my first job interview. Lip balm is an indispensable part of my everyday existence. It’s always been with me.

I wonder what life would be like without it. If I threw it out the window while driving along the highway, how long before I started to lick my lips in a pavlovian response, worsening the problem, but unable to avoid doing so? How long before I succumbed to the urge to stop at the first convenience store I come to and replace it?

Think about things you carry around. How many of your habitual daily routines are a necessary part of your existence, and how many are just habitual routines you do because you’ve always done them?

One of these days while driving down the highway I’ll chuck my lip balm out the window and find out once and for all what life’s like without it. What strange life will I lead then?

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Fall Pastimes

For some reason I haven’t written yet about the coolest part of Our Simplicity Project. I don’t know why. So here goes: Life is awesome! I really enjoy life now. I didn’t before. In the midst of the rat race with mortgages and car payments and noise and ignorance I didn’t know what it felt like to really enjoy life. I used to think pizza and beer and televised football on Sunday afternoon was a good as it gets. It aint.

Because our lives are intentionally uncomplicated, there are many things I took for granted in the past as “things I have to do,” that I don’t do at all anymore.

This morning I woke up, spent an hour cooking breakfast for my family, drove four miles to the trailhead of one of the most beautiful trails in my state, hiked about two miles, drove an extra three miles to cross the bridge over the lake I live near just to enjoy the view, came home, and started writing this post.

My wife’s picking up walnuts. We’ll sell them and make a few dollars. Not enough to justify the time spent picking them up, but she’s not doing it for the money. It’s a gorgeous, sunny, autumn day with temperatures in the mid 50’s. It’s quiet and peaceful, except when the kids are helping. The air is clean and crisp and she’s happy. She’s enjoying the moment.

The last few days we’ve harvested the last of our tomato crop. Gallons of them. Mostly volunteer cherry tomatoes. We have about three dozen quarts canned so far. We won’t necessarily save any money. Metal cans of tomatoes are cheap enough. Jars of spaghetti sauce are cheap enough. But we didn’t spend all the time we spent cultivating, picking, cleaning, and canning tomatoes to save money. We did it because it was fun to plant them and fun to see the results of our labor. We’ll make many, many meals with tomatoes we grew ourselves. They’re good for the environment, better for our health, won’t hurt our budget, and we enjoyed being outside playing in the dirt.

Breathing clean air. Appreciating nature. Growing and eating good, real food. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. It’s an uncomplicated life.

I haven’t watched a football game in over two years. It’s not that I don’t like football anymore, it’s just that I have better things to do.

Two Generations of Environmentalists

My Dad was an environmentalist, decades before the term was coined.

He was constantly yelling at one or more of his five children to shut the refrigerator door and turn off lights when nobody was in the room, and we rarely enjoyed the childhood pastime of running beneath a sprinkler.

But Dad was no hypocrite. He practiced what he preached.

When he shaved or washed his hands or face, he didn’t let the water run.  Instead he filled the sink with just enough water to complete his task. It was a habit from way back, when the farm he’d grown up on lacked an adequate water supply. There was a well on the farm and plumbing in the house, but if he, his mom, dad, or sister used too much water, the well ran dry. It might take a day or two for the spring-fed well to catch back up. Dad’s habit of bathing once a week, “whether he needed it or not,” was borne of the same water-well short supply.

Photo by NOAA

On the farm in the 1950’s, they lost power frequently. If a thunderstorm blew through, the farm might be without power for days at a time. Sometimes, like when a tornado in the next county up-rooted utility poles and flung them around like toothpicks, they lived many weeks without electricity. Out to the root cellar went perishables, where they hoped the food wouldn’t spoil before they could eat it. Into salt barrels with salt of questionable quality (usually left over from the last time the power had gone out) went meat from the deep-freeze. The wood cook stove still sufficed for baking bread and biscuits, cooking pancakes, and frying ham and eggs, just as it had in the days before electric co-ops sprang up along the countryside and wires were strung all over creation. That stove was hot to cook on in the summertime, but better than nothing. All the laid-up canning jars full of vegetables, tomatoes, jellies, jams and preserves served them well.

Power outages or no, the electric bill came like clockwork, once a month. On a largely subsistence-oriented farmstead, “cash money” was hard to come by. They, like most of their neighbors, usually bartered for material needs. What cash they earned came from the sale of crops at harvest time. The annual paycheck depended on factors like weather conditions throughout the growing season and current commodity prices. If they “wasted” electricity, they might not have enough money to pay the bill.

Dad learned the hard way to conserve resources and use them wisely. When he moved off the farm and into the city, the seemingly inexhaustible supply of water didn’t cause him to change his habits. Although electricity was comparatively cheaper and his paychecks came more frequently, he still acted as if its continued existence depended on frugal use of it.

“Wasting” electricity and water was something I learned early on not to do. Dad admonished me for the same things I admonish my children for, but for different reasons. Today we worry about depleting resources and diminishing supplies.

Come to think of it, in Dad’s day they worried about the same things.

Reduce, Reduce, Reduce

Vicki and I, like every other American from the so-called “X Generation,” grew up with the slogan “reduce, reuse, recycle.”

Maybe the government’s public awareness campaign should’ve started with this mantra: “reduce, reduce, reduce.” Once that sank in to the collective American consciousness, say after a decade or so, they could’ve amended it to say: “reduce, reduce, reuse.” Then another decade later, they could’ve introduced the one we’re all familiar with, and the overall effect would likely have been much more beneficial.

Instead, manufacturers capitalized on the opportunity and began making things they could stamp or print a recycling symbol on. With all the wonderfully well-executed marketing campaigns by huge corporations touting their “environmentally friendly” products and packaging, we found “green” products irresistible, and recycling became standard operating procedure in many American households. As recycled and recyclable products became more and more available, we gobbled them up. The first two, arguably more important parts of the slogan – reducing and reusing – got lost amid our exuberance to recycle our way to a better world.

Recycling is not the panacea advertisers would have us believe it is. Products and packaging made from recyclable materials still require energy and raw materials to manufacture. It also takes energy to recycle post-consumer materials and turn them into other things. While buying recycled and recyclable products is undoubtedly better than buying things manufactured from raw materials or non-renewable resources, it’s still not the answer. Even if it’s recyclable, made from renewable resources, or manufactured using recycled materials, how many fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions are required to produce it in the first place, and recycle it in the second place?

I came to this enlightened state of awareness while pondering my overflowing recycle bin after asking Vicki, “how did it get so full so fast?” The answer was obvious; we’re not reducing and reusing enough.

So we refill jars and reusable containers as often as possible. We buy un-packaged products or products with minimal packaging. We never buy bottled water, but instead take refillable bottles wherever we go. We’re slowly reducing what goes in our recycle bin without increasing our contributions to the landfill. It’s a process…

The Ripple-Effect

What’s good for you, is also good for the environment.

When you make sustainable choices, the result is what I call the ripple-effect.

By understanding the ripple-effect, you begin to understand how simplicity, sustainability, and financial responsibility are connected.

For years we’ve heard the mantra: Reduce, reuse, and recycle. We tried to use less energy. We tried to buy products with less packaging. We recycled when we could. We also tried to eat as healthy as possible given our busy lives. But as our children grew older, we became much more conscious of what we were feeding them and ourselves. The more we questioned our food choices, the more we realized how closely our health-consciousness was linked to environmental consciousness.

When you take a hard, critical look at mass-produced food, you may not want to buy anything from the grocery store ever again. So what if you didn’t? What if you built your diet around bulk grains, rice, beans and local produce and made all your meals from scratch?

First, by doing so, you wouldn’t be supporting the mass food industry by buying their genetically modified, potentially carcinogenic, possibly toxic processed food that’s packaged in non-biodegradable containers and shipped to your town from someplace far away.

Second, per ounce, pre-packaged processed foods are much more expensive, so by not buying them, you’d save money.

And third, you’d be eating whole, natural, hopefully organic food that will inevitably produce long-term health benefits.

But, you might argue, processed foods are easy. They’re convenient. And who has time to cook every meal from scratch?

So let’s take it a step further and look at the beef industry. Under examination, you see how destructive mass-produced beef is for the environment and the health of anyone eating it. Consider the genetically modified corn specifically grown to feed to cows, the antibiotics and hormones injected into the animals, the irradiation of the meat product, the Styrofoam and plastic packaging, and the expense of transporting it all to market. The industry claims it’s providing what people want; easy, cheap food, right now. You might say what I’ve said at times in my life; “sure the industry’s harmful to the environment and the meat isn’t healthy, but I’ve l got to eat something. It’s not like I can raise my own cows.” Given the convenience factor it’s easy to overlook all the negatives.

But when you challenge yourself to find alternatives, you discover they exist. That’s where your curiosity, imagination, and creativity begin to work their magic. It’s when you begin to try new things and explore new opportunities.

When you begin to creatively think of ways to change your eating habits, or lower your utility bills, or reduce the quantity of material things in your life, you start to realize the beneficial effects, not just for you, but also for the world at large, for others and for the environment.

Here’s how our simplicity positively impacts the environment:

  • Because we buy very little processed food, we have very little trash
  • Because we buy things used, we don’t buy packaging, and don’t have trash
  • Because we drink free tap water (filtered,) we don’t have plastic bottles to recycle
  • Because we have lower utility bills, we use fewer resources
  • Because we have less stuff, we use fewer resources

Here’s how our simplicity positively impacts our daily lives:

  • Because we buy very little processed food, we eat healthier and save money
  • Because we buy things used, we save money
  • Because we drink tap water, we save money
  • Because we have lower utility bills, we save money
  • Because we have less stuff, we save money and have fewer things to repair, replace, maintain, and worry about

By incorporating simplicity into your life, even on the smallest scale, the most seemingly insignificant things, you begin to see the ripple effect.

One change, one minor adjustment in your daily routine or periodic visit to the supermarket, can have many, multi-layered consequences. You begin to see how all things work together, how we’re tied to the planet and to each other.

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