How a movie about water and a book about zombies inspired me.

I sometimes ask myself, why? Why am I doing things that make my house work and my yard work more involved than it could be? Why do I sometimes go into the backyard and do things that I hope won’t offend my neighbors too much (no one’s said anything about the 5,000 to 10,000 bees I’m harboring back there yet). Why also, do we spend more money on certain things (organics mostly) when part of our goal is to be less dependent on money in general?

Well, all of this mess began out of concern for the earth and a desire to not fall into the pattern I’ve seen develop in so many peers. The pattern of wake, work, spend, consume, repeat (there’s some TV-watching in there, too). Against our stated wishes, my husband and I had fallen into “the pattern.” But about a year ago, we bought a new house that is closer in to town than our old house. The idea was that 1) we’d be closer to all the hip things we like to do and 2) we’d use less gas (yay, earth! yay, pocketbook!). We found a small, fixed up house in a university area; we also bought some bicycles as another goodwill gesture to the earth. The hubbub of moving and new bikes and unpacking disrupted the pattern for a while…

But we (and me especially) had been focusing on the acquisition of the house and its accouterments for a long time. And once faced with the idea that we were going to be living in the same place for 5 to 10 years, I started to plan out all of the possibilities. New furniture for the bedroom; shelving for all of our acquired treasures; adding an attic door to store more stuff; draperies; art; and on and on. All of this was going to cost a lot of money! And paying the new mortgage (before we got a lower rate through refinance) was burdensome enough. Plus, we had two cars to pay off. All of a sudden, the dream house was becoming the 500-pound weight at the end of my ankle shackle. “The pattern” would perpetuate because wake/work/spend was the only choice for maintaining our lifestyle. AND my husband had dreams of going to grad school!

I was a victim of Better Homes and Gardens Syndrome. I wanted the magazine life. Hadn’t I always thought perfection was boring? Why was I falling into the same trap that I had snickered about before?

Whatever it was, I started to shake it loose around January or February of this year. We watched “Flow,” a documentary about the world’s water crisis. Examining the lives of people and communities whose one wish was convenient, potable water made my desire for a new bedroom set seem tremendously petty. As soon as the film ended, we had a serious talk about what was really important. We vowed, on that couch, butts unmoved from movie-watching position, that we needed to get serious about living a simpler, hopefully richer life.

Shortly thereafter, I found further inspiration from World War Z, a fictional history of the zombie apocalypse. It’s ludicrous that one would gain any sort of insight into real life from such a source, but I managed. The story goes that after the zombie war calms down and the world starts to rebuild, everyone is assigned restoration jobs–farmer, carpenter, gravedigger, etc. And the people with the unskilled jobs (the manure shovelers and janitors) are the people who used to be CEOs and ad executives and congressmen because they didn’t have any real, hands-on skills. And, while I don’t believe that anything like the zombie apocalypse is ever actually going to happen, I would prefer to be one of those people who has a skill. Something I can do with my own two hands.

That’s the story of how we got here. Here’s where we headed and, also, where we will never go:

Our Goals
1. Save money. Buy less stuff. Keep modest cars. Save for retirement. Don’t buy the latest and greatest thing just because it’s new.
2. Be nicer to the environment. Eat less meat. Buy local produce. Drive less; bike more.
3. Learn useful and/or fun skills. Beekeeping; gardening; camping; rock climbing; cooking; home repair; building; MacGyver-ing.

Things You Will Not See Us Do
1. Give up TV. We like to be entertained. Plus, I won a very awesome high-def TV at work last Christmas.
2. Install a composting toilet. Though we follow the adage, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.”
3. Go vegan. I know that I could give up meat. But I cannot live without butter and cheese.
4. Chain ourselves to a tree to save it. We’re not that in to danger.

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