Andrew Marr’s Megacities & Global Waste

I’ve been meaning to watch Andrew Marr’s Megacities since it was first shown on TV in 2011. Yes, I’m a bit slow of the mark here! My Uncle actually recommended it to me, as he found it so fascinating. It is truly absorbing content – Andrew explains how now the majority of the world’s population live in cities and not in the countryside. This is only set to increase as time goes on and he discusses the global challenges we face as a human race because of this. I was really interested to see that he covers the problem of waste.

He highlighted how in Dhaka, Bangladesh the poorest people pick over the rubbish tips for anything that they can sell on. As in so many other places, the city just cannot cope with the amount of waste being produced.

He also covered the problem of waste in Mexico City which was just horrific! The canals that were designed to take the run off from the rainy season, are literally thick with rubbish – mostly plastic waste, dead animals but sometimes they even find dead bodies :S As Andrew himself puts it;

  “The modern mania for throwing things away reaches its inevitable consequence here, clogged and festering. Almost everything gets thrown in here.”

The boat that he was lowered into the ‘water’ in is instantly becalmed, as the waste has solidified. They actually have to send a diver into to clear the filters – he risks life and limb. On this particular occasion he finds a tree is blocking the system and is able to remove it.

I always find documentaries like this to be really eye-opening and I particularly enjoyed this 3-part series. It’s as relevant today as it was 5 years ago and it doesn’t feel like the world is collectively doing anything significant to help tackle these issues.

Branching out

I’ve just returned from a break away which has allowed me to get a fresh perspective on things. I’ve decided to branch out a little in my Minimalist and Zero Waste ramblings. Aside from minimising and trying to be zero waste as much as is possible, I also try to simplify my life in other ways. I’ve been self-employed for a number of years now and alongside this, I supplement my income with earning money online. Not only does this allow me to work more flexibly which is great, as I live with a long-term health condition; it also makes our household finances go further.

I know life shouldn’t be focused on money, but sadly as everything is SO expensive in the UK- we do need to factor it in! I reckon you need around £10,000 per year, just to live in the UK- that pays for food, living expenses, taxes and so on. I’m hoping to show you how you can work for yourself, no matter what your skill set and therefore, have more time to spend doing the things you love. You know, the things that are really meaningful to you- whether that be travelling or simply being able to cook more from scratch (that’s my bag, right there!)

I’m going to start sharing a myriad of ways you can reduce your household expenditure, whilst hopefully still maintaining your Minimalist/ Zero Waste values. Today I’m going to cover how we dramatically reduced our mobile phone bills, by at least half! No-one in this household is bothered about having the latest or greatest technology and I don’t need to start on the ethical dilemmas that come with tech like phones. A family member introduced us to a company called GiffGaff (this post will only be relevant to my UK readers, sorry!)

GiffGaff are a cooperative, which means they are owned and run by their members. I’m all for cooperatives, we use them for our food (as much as possible) and our energy. I’d happily use them for more too! Although GiffGaff have now branched out, they still off great SIM-only deals. We pay just £5 per month for our phones- calls, texts and data. We use our own SIM-free phones which we bought outright from the start (separately). We both tend to keep phones for around 6 years, or until they break! The SIM-only deals mean you have a 30-day rolling contract and you can change your bundle every month, if your usage changes. The bundles are called Goodybags and you can choose from the full range on their website. Now they are even more flexible and if you run out part way through the month, you can simply queue up your next Goodybag immediately. If £5 a month is more than you need to be spending, then just opt for a Pay-As-You-Go plan and spend as much, or as little as you need.

GiffGaff use the O2 Network and we’ve had much better reception all over the UK, than with our previous mobile phone provider Orange/EE. Every technical query under the sun is covered on their website and honestly, we’ve barely had a problem between us in the nearly 4 years we’ve been with them. If you need to, they do have special agents who can help you with more serious problems and I’ve found them to be great.

The great stuff is that no-one is pressuring you to upgrade, no-one is trying to up-sell you a package and their pries are LOW. If you want to experience the GiffGaff love, then you can sign up using my link: https://www.giffgaff.com/orders/affiliate/elizabethhodge and we’ll each get £5 airtime credit as a bonus.

I’m under no pressure to tell you about them, I just want you to start saving some serious cash. Prior to this, I think we were both spending £15 a month on our phones- so we’re saving £120 a year, EACH! Surely that’s part of being Minimalist and Zero Waste- only paying for what you need and that goes for everything in life. I like to think about how much money we could all be giving to charity, if we didn’t waste so much supporting big corporations, but that’s another topic for another day.

A Gregarious Society Collects

This post owes its trigger to a retro series lurking on BBC iplayer about architecture. I’m not even sure how I found it now, but it’s entitled Architecture at a Crossroads. Even though this series was first broadcast way back in 1986 it makes some salient points for today. Aside from that, it is simply fascinating and has made me realise what poor programming we are subjected to today. In an hour spent watching this series, I have Googled far more interesting terms than in a week watching today’s TV.

In my hour’s viewing so far, I have had so many thoughts that are relevant to Minimalism that I wanted to try and collect them before they dissipate. Even architecture has gone through a Minimalist phase, but in the 1980s this was starting to reverse as people realised the minimalistic style was bland and soul-less. Contemporary architecture and design has tended to fuse historical and contemporary elements, to give results that appeal to the human soul and are less prison-like. They moved away from boxy, flat-sided designs constructed from concrete and metal frames, back to brick and more detail in the facade (literally ‘the face’ of the building).

One other comment has really struck a chord with me, the narrator of the programme made the statement that a “gregarious society collects”. How intriguing! I think he was referring to our recent preference to look back, in nostalgia rather than forwards to the future. This applies to all sorts of areas of life, but he was referring to our urge to preserve historic buildings of al types whereas in previous societies, they would only preserve the greatest- such as castles or stately homes.

I again Googled this term to find out more, but came up with surprisingly little information. If a gregarious society collects, then surely a minimalist society is the opposite of this? What is a non-gregarious society, I thought? Again, Google yielded almost nothing in response. There was one sparsely populated website that said that the definition of a non-gregarious society is one that ‘does not belong to a flock’, ‘dislikes socialising’ and ‘prefers solitariness’. I thought the latter two sounded a bit negative and not terribly appealing either!

Then I found an old sociology textbook called ‘Mappers of Society- The Lives, Times and Legacies of Great Sociologists’ on Google Books. In a section on the leisure class, there is some information on ‘the beginning of ownership’ ascribed to somebody called Veblen. The author states that if you are non-gregarious, you live season to season. I clearly need to do some more reading, for Veblen was the person who coined the terms ‘conspicuous consumption’ and ‘conspicuous waste’ which are so much a part of what we talk about in Minimalism and Zero Waste today. Clearly his sociological analysis was sharp and ever relevant.

Veblen suggests that as societies moved towards Barbarism (a predatory way of life), they stopped producing items that emulated a more peaceful way of life (such as items related to health care or food production). We became a society that produced goods to act as trophies, to show off. What a compliment to our age; a society that has been able to produce goods that are inefficient, useless or unnecessary, possibly all three at the same time! We presume these trophies signify success. Veblen was really interested in the link between individual ownership and the creation of a leisure class. Now surely that is something we must seek to understand and unpick, if we are calling ourselves Minimalists and hope to move beyond those social constructs?

Veblen stated that “the motive that lies at the root of ownership is emulation”. Meaning that as humans, we have learnt to compare what we have, with what our friends and neighbours have. We have equated the person with the most belongings to be the winner in the face for the best reputation. However, it is an infinite task since you can always acquire more stuff and hence, hope to out-do your neighbour. Thus, we (as humans) have created this social structure based on the foundation of private ownership, through which social honour is gained. Clearly, there is a wave in our contemporary society that is beginning to fight against this and we term it Minimalism.

And unfortunately there, my free e-book preview is curtailed. I am off to try and purchase a copy of The Theory of the Leisure Class (Oxford World’s Classics) by Thorstein Veblen

and then perhaps I can post more of my musings. In the mean-time, if any of you are sociologists out there and care to enlighten me further, I would love to hear from you!

 

Minimalist bloggers pushing the same old consumerist culture

I’m always keen to follow bloggers whose content I enjoy reading and find helpful. However, I’ve recently become really disillusioned with a whole bunch of them. It seems like every single post they make is all about self-promotion and pushing their latest wares- be it book, film, DVD or e-book. It all amounts to the same for me- namely visual and mental clutter!

I think I feel disheartened because the whole idea of being Minimalist or Zero Waste, to me- is about being counter-cultural. That means going against the flow, the norms and what society expects of us. It’s one thing getting the message out there and it’s quite another pushing product, that ultimately has one purpose- to make people money. I understand that everyone has to make a living, but I’ve always thought that the most humble and honest way to do that is through living out that lifestyle whilst living a ‘normal’ life, holding down a ‘normal’ job.

The internet has brought about the rise of blogging, social media and things like Facebook or Instagram. Whilst these can be useful tools, they are also now pillars of Western consumerist culture. Tonnes of brands use them to make more money and we have witnessed the rise of bloggers and vloggers as celebrities. As I write this, I am preparing to go and ‘unlike’ a bunch of formerly helpful and informative bloggers. Sadly they have succumbed to the lure of cash and our consumerist culture. I will be a lot less irritated without these surreptitious adverts creeping into my inbox or newsfeed.

I hope this blog is an honest and personal exploration of the concepts of Minimalism and Zero Waste- advert free! I sincerely wish never to go down that consumerist path.

Decluttering

I think it must be the signs of spring that have put me in the mood to spring clean! Since we moved into our new place, around 18 months ago- several pieces of furniture have become redundant. First off we sold our hifi and really haven’t missed it, but we kept the stand and used it to store CDs and board games. But it’s been bugging me that it seems like an unnecessary piece of furniture. Then, we changed our 3-piece suite and got fancy recliners! This meant that we couldn’t have our coffee table out and use the recliner function. So the coffee table got pushed into a corner and has mostly just accumulated clutter ever since! We have a nest of tables in this matching set and although they are still useful, we worry about the safety of our nephews when they come round because they have glass tops and sharp corners. With 2 out of the 3 pieces now redundant, it seems like a good excuse to sell the set and that’s exactly what we’re hoping- as I’ve listed it for sale on eBay.

I’ve read so many other bloggers and minimalist writers saying that flat surfaces accumulate clutter and it’s so true. In order to prepare these items for sale, I had to remove all the trinkets and other stuff that had accumulated. It’s forced me to file away papers and return things to their proper places. But it’s also made me find new homes for other things. I’ve also put lots of these on eBay too- I’ve currently got 50 items on there and a few have sold already. I wonder how many will sell? Have you had many eBay successes when decluttering?

We would like to get another nest of tables, so they’ll sit inside one another when not all needed. We use them regularly for putting drinks on. But it has made me think that you really only need a tiny surface to rest a cup on. Maybe I’ll be able to find some truly tiny, minimalist side tables?! I think it’s more likely that I’ll beg a set from my parents, who have two and help them minimise in the process!

I think it’s great to regularly go through your stuff, particularly in an item of furniture. You take everything out and it really makes you consider if you need it. If you haven’t used it in a year or more, then it’s usually time to pass it on. It’s also been an eye-opener for me because a lot of these items are impulse purchases from charity shops. It’s easy to kid yourself that it doesn’t matter as much because it’s cheap. But I’ve still been wasting money on items I haven’t used. Not financially sensible, nor from a minimalist perspective either! I am trying to have more resolve to window shop and stay away from so-called bargains! If I don’t actually NEED the item, then really I should just be walking away. I think I also need to find a new leisure activity- I’ve become slightly addicted to visiting charity shops. Is anyone else out there a little bit addicted to charity shops? Share your tips please 🙂

Is it worth it?

I’m reading a lovely book called Sucking Eggs: What Your Wartime Granny Could Teach You about Diet, Thrift and Going Green. I saw in my local library and the title immediately grabbed my attention!

I am equally amused & impelled and by some of the comments in the chapter on fashion. Whilst I have never queued up for a piece of designer something. I think on some level we can all relate, we are all being sold things that we don’t need.

“A wartime mantra was ‘If you see a queue- join it’. Our grandmothers formed an orderly line outside shops in the desperate hope that some hard to come by item (nylon’s, shoes, fish, lemons) might still be being sold by the time they reached the head of the queue. They queued because it was worth it.

In the early noughties we queued because we’d swallowed- hook, line and sinker- the notion that we’re worth it. Many of us fell for the idea that it wasn’t just a product we were purchasing when we bought a Kate Moss waistcoat in Topshop, but actually a scintilla of her glamour and a taste of her celebrity lifestyle.”

The chapter goes on to say that this idea of ‘being worth it’ is a pernicious one. Certainly, it’s L’Oreal’s tagline! With the liberation of women from domestic drudgery- what have we done? Gone out and spent more than we are actually worth on a plethora of high street products, all promising us different things. Where our grandparents saved for the national good, we spent ourselves into debt, persuaded by marketeers that it was good for the nation. How many people are still falling for all these lies? Every successive Government still tries to convince us to spend for economic growth and security!

This book also highlights certain other curious facts:

  • The average women spends more than 8 years of her life shopping
  • She also spends 95 hours a year on food shopping, but 169 hours clothes shopping!
  • Most women have no funds left over at the end of the month for savings and habitually buy items of clothing they do not need
  • In 2007, the average women bought twice as much clothing as she did in 1995
  • From 2003-2008, local councils saw a 23% increase in the amount of textiles thrown away

I dread to think what more up-to-date versions of these figures would tell us. I am certain that things will have gotten worse, not better. This phenomenon has also been dubbed ‘The Primark Effect’- this is what cheap, throwaway fashion does to our society. Let alone what it does globally which you can read about in some of my previous posts.

What seems to have disappeared from our society (and not just in terms of clothes buying, but much more widely IMHO) is common sense! Whereas our grandparents generation would have bought clothing based on need, we now buy based on fashion. I am totally guilty of this kind of shopping based on desire, not need and I am seeking to mend my ways.

My husband often comments on how many clothes and shoes I have, in comparison to his. It’s a bit of a joke, but it highlights the very different way in which men and women shop. Men seem to be much more logical and orderly. Women, myself included, are often in search of a bargain- it must be that scarcity mentality kicking in (again, you can read about this in previous posts).

There have been a lot posts by bloggers that encourage Minimalism in relation to clothing, but many of these have been year long projects. Temporary experiments and many times, people probably creep back into their old habits. What about contemplating making the change for a lifetime? I need to make this change myself! Could you manage on the amount of clothing shown in this British wartime poster from the 1940s? Food for thought, isn’t it?

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I will be posting more about clothing in my next blog post- in particular second-hand clothing (a passion of mine), so look out for it!