May-Jun 2011 - First Person: Experiences of Simplified Living
by mythili and brinda
Degrees of Change°
‘Six degrees could change the world’ is a film that hypothesises how the world would look with every degree rise in temperature. Even with a two degree rise, the picture is far from pretty. The possibility of complete annihilation of life as we know it is very real with a six degree rise. The film set us thinking! Do we wring our hands and bemoan the fact that individuals can do precious little against a mindless society or do we do what little we can, given the reality that we are the mindless society? We chose the latter, being eternal optimists (incidentally we’re educators, which would also account for this article). We began with the most obvious choice - food. We switched to organic, local produce; organic, because chemical farming pollutes air, water, soil, body and soul, and local, because enormous amounts of energy go into preserving and transporting non-local produce. So, definitely no Washington Red apples or Fijian pears for us! And no frozen or packaged food either, for the same considerations. We also began kitchen gardening. While our green thumbs may be suspect, getting our hands and knees muddied on a regular basis is certainly therapeutic.
For all material things we use, we follow the 3 ‘R’s – reduce, reuse/recycle and refuse. These are the ‘R’s we need to teach our children now, if we do not wish to bequeath them an inhospitable planet. The third R may appear tough. But just imposing a moratorium on buying any new stuff, especially clothes, has worked wonders for us.
To the extent possible we also refuse the use of private modes of transport. We apply the reuse/recycle mantra to all the things that fall within our jurisdiction. We make compost for our garden with kitchen waste. We reuse the water used to wash vegetables, fruits, rice, lentils, etc. to water our garden. We avoid using anything that is designed for a single use, which includes most things from ball point pens to sanitary pads, and several things in between.
These changes have been truly satisfying on the personal front and very practical too. For one, buying only essentials has reduced clutter around the home. The restriction on usage of disposable items has reduced choices for us. The time that we once spent choosing from an array of options for the most trivial things, is now at our disposal to spend in better ways! Along with time, of course we’re also saving money, by just not buying what we do not need and reusing as many things as possible.
It has not been a walk in the park for our families. It took considerable time for them to get from ‘why can’t we do things like everybody else’ to ‘hmm, maybe she has a point’. Junk food is now completely off the table and reuse of materials is accepted as the norm. Our children think twice about ‘wanting’ to buy something. There are rare moments when our husbands and children actually accept that these changes are for the better. Green issues are taken at least as seriously as their favourite rock band ‘Green Day’, if not more! These changes have been incrementally wrought over the past year or so. Along the way we have had people view us as eccentrics, to be either avoided or humoured. But we have also met very interesting people who have brought many more degrees of change in their own lifestyles. Ours seem ones who cheer us on in the belief that if enough numbers of us adopt these changes to the extent we can, we can make a difference on a planetary level.
How’s that for optimism?
Irrespective of what happens to Mother Earth or the human race, we have gained immensely as individuals. The responsibility that we’ve been showing towards materials is spilling over to relationships as well. There is a deep sense of well-being growing within us that people close to us are able to perceive. We feel that we are living life more fully now than we did a couple of years ago. Of course, the changes have not been smooth or along a single trajectory. When beset by doubt the thumb rule we follow is to listen to our instinct. Years of brainwashing have made us ignore this instinct. It is this natural instinct that we are trying to regain touch with, by ‘de-cluttering’ our minds and hearts.