Monday, November 5, 2007

Creature Comforts (Part 3): Paring down, an Introduction

“In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy of sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.”
- Edith Wharton
After a brief interlude, I continue my Creature Comforts series with another idea about how one might find a happy medium between comfort and precariousness. This topic will be presented in several parts since it is one worth deliberating on. Within these parts, I will hash out the notion of paring down: What does it mean to pare down in a society where more equals more? How can we pare down in a way that doesn’t deny us our happiness? And what’s the point? This section will serve as my introduction, followed by several posts that provide specific examples of how one might pare down.

“Simplify Life” is a notion that has gained more and more prevalence during the twenty-first century thus far. With all the choices available to us, and our burgeoning consumer habits, we are crying out for simplicity in the hopes of finding a more wholesome way to nourish our souls. As a culture, we often look back on the “good old days” as examples of how simple and easy life used to be. Things tend to seem as though they were better back then. Problem is, the people living “back then” looked to their pasts for the same inspiration. Thus, we must find ways to carve out simplicity in our present lives, lest we trap ourselves in an endless web of nostalgia. This can involve giving up some of our creature comforts, but in the end I truly believe it is worth the sacrifice.

Despite the heralds of gloom and doom about the shrinking middle class and lack of sufficient health care, my life as a North American feels downright cushy. Perhaps part of the reason I feel this way is due to my sunny disposition; I don’t often want for much and am generally satisfied with what I have. But I did indeed grow up in a country where it is easy to live comfortably, speaking subjectively of course, on teacher’s salaries. My parents, both teachers, had four children, and though I couldn’t always get the outfit or toy that I wanted, my basic needs were met and I had a blissfully happy childhood (no lie!). Essentially, I learned to rejoice in small ways and dream about big things (like the quote above). I believe this is the crux of the debate about frugality, prosperity, and simplicity in our abundant and plush society. It is the moral to this story.

So, what is the point of paring down?

I am going to be a bit extreme here and say it is our responsibility to pare down in everything we do day to day. It is our duty to limit in any ways we can the strain we put on our natural resources. Sure, spending bolsters the economy and we, as consumers, are what drive this capitalist machine. But it is easy to get more than we need or ask for in our society, e.g. whopping helpings at restaurants. Gladly, it isn’t hard to break the habit of accepting blindly what is placed in front of us. The point? Paring down is the simplicity we’re searching for, and it is not as hard to attain as we might think.

I look forward to reading your thoughts and comments about this topic in this and the following posts. Enjoy this great day!


Russell A. Spinney said...

Hey Larissa,
I think you are on the right track - we are in the fortunate position of being able to make some changes, but there are lots of things standing in the way for many people. Still, there are things that people even on limited budgets can do. I also think starting with ourselves is the right place for the same reasons you mention. We do lead pretty cushy lives and are excessive in our use of water, HOT water, heat, fuel, food, etc. This is an important place to rethink who we are and where we stand in the world. We do have choices and responsibilities along with incredible freedom as consumers. Diet can be tough - I know from my sugar habits, but making changes like yoga and diet and have worked together over the long run: I eat less and more healthy. If I am any indication (hmmmm), then most Americans see the starches and the red meats first. Most of us want that nice long hot shower too. We leave everything turned on. Those are big ecological footprints like we have talked about in our Blog Action Day post. Everything else is a side dressing on the plate. Part of this is how we think about ourselves as consumers and I think the risks look pretty good when we lay our lives out in front of ourselves (maybe that is a key fear threshhold: looking at ourselves). Once we are past that and take a good look, it helps us make conscious decisions.

Chloe said...

I just want to say that you are a breath of fresh air, Larissa! You seem so kind and thoughtful and I really enjoy your blog. You always give me something to ponder. Thanks.

Larissa said...

Russell, thanks for your thoughts. I know from reading your blog and comments that we have similar ways of thinking about the world and issues such as this. Of course, I guess I already knew that from our times hanging out in good old Mercersburg! I hope I'm not just "preaching to the choir" though, but that my writing might actually be influencing readers in a new way. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Larissa said...

I'm so glad you find my writing inspired and thoughtful. I always appreciate hearing from you in my comments. I hope you continue to enjoy what I have to say. Do you have a blog, perhaps?

Russell A. Spinney said...

Hey Larissa (again),
I worry too about preaching to the choir on this and I am wondering if there is then a few ways to go further and get our voices engaging other people in new ways. Just something to think about - maybe plant a seed. One last note: your family rocks (including the in blog expletive-using members). That is such a rare strength, but it is good to know that you are all out there!

it's hallie! said...

I spose "paring down" is the core of my constant longings and consistant enjoyment of backpacking. If only for a few days, I am swept into the primal world where I become more vulnerable and must use my own strength to survive. There is nothing more satisfying than plunging into a forest of unknowns and returning to civilization with newfound perspectives and appreciation. I look for this even on my morning walks on the roadside... and for a few moments, in my own mind... I am a pioneer.

Larissa said...

Hi Russell,
Thanks for your kind words about my family. They do rock, and Brechyn ****ing rocks! She swears like a sailor that girl. I guess Ryan and I might be starting an Arts Council in Mercersburg along with a few others (this is all up in the air). I guess that could count as engaging with people in new ways. We'll see how it goes...
All the best,

Larissa said...

Ms. Hallie!
Ah, I miss our backpacking days together in old Idaho. What a great place to be a pioneer. In fact, that is where I really learned to pare down I think. Material items just don't seem to matter in such a rugged, wild place. Gosh, I miss it so much...and you too!