I’m a chronic overthinker. Always have been, always will be. And lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what exactly this blog is about. Today I’m going to write more about why I blog.
When I Was Little…
I loved thinking about what life was like a long time ago. It started when I turned 6 and received my American Girl as a birthday gift. (I have Samantha, in case you’re curious. Yes, I still have her. I could never sell Samantha.) She came with a book about her adventures as a girl growing up at the turn of the 20th century. My mom read her books out loud to us before bed every night. We eventually worked our way through all of the historical dolls’ series.
I continued to read historical fiction after finishing those series. (Little House in the Big Woods was the first chapter book I read on my own. It was also the first time I ever found myself truly lost in a book.) My sister and I would dress our dolls up in their period clothing and act out what we imagined life to be like, back in whatever period we were reenacting (everything from colonial times to the 1940s!). Sometimes, we’d even dress up ourselves and pretend we were Minnesotan pioneers 200 years before. I remember telling my parents to wake me up at 5am one day, just to see what it felt like.
As I got older, I learned that living in the past–even on the beautiful Minnesotan frontier–wasn’t all about homemade cake and gathering wildflowers on the prairie. It was a harsh, laborious, and uncertain existence, before the advent of modern medicine, when women and minorities weren’t treated well. But I still loved those stories and thought of them often, even through high school. Life was much harder back then than today, but I often longed for a quieter world.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
When I was 16, I read a book called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver for an English class. Prior to AVM, I had no interest whatsoever in the food industry. I only picked it to be my “choice novel” for the semester because my mom already owned a copy. I didn’t want to buy a new book.
AVM was life-changing for me. It opened my eyes to the environmental destruction and pollution that make conventional farming possible. As a result, I became interested in–and then passionate about–regaining a sense of connection to what I ate. I learned how to cook and became especially interested in lost culinary arts, such as making bread. I learned how to garden from my mom and started my high school’s gardening club. I visited farmers’ markets, then went home and Googled the farms I’d bought food from. Who was I supporting with my food dollars?
Most importantly, I kept learning. I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, Eating Animals, and other well-known books on the food industry. I watched documentaries. I liked environmentally-oriented Facebook pages to keep up with the latest news.
It would seem from what I’ve told you that Animal, Vegetable, Miracle inspired me to act because I cared about the environment, or about the connection between the Standard American Diet and human health. And I care about both, very much! But something else drew me into the book, something about the lifestyle that the Kingsolvers lived during their “year of local” that I wanted for myself. I just couldn’t quite place a finger on it at the time.
I continued to read and watch literature about the food industry, the environment, and health for the rest of high school and into college. When it came time to pick my degree, I chose biology, with a focus on ecology and evolution, in hopes of learning more about the landscapes I love and want to help preserve.
However, the day-to-day life of a biology major wore me down. The copious amounts of information to memorize, the dense and often dull-to-read papers, the frequent exams. Although I did well academically, I knew early on in my degree that I didn’t want to study ecology at the graduate level.
Once I freed my interest in sustainability from academics, my consumption of books and films about the food industry, environment, and modern diet-related health problems soared once again. I read books by paleo authors and watched pro-vegan “Cowspiracy,” watched classics like “An Inconvenient Truth,” and branched out into learning about other environmental issues, like the pollution caused by the fashion industry in “The True Cost.” And somewhere along the way, I ran into…
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Embarrassing fact about me: I like to watch cleaning videos on YouTube. I find them incredibly soothing. Well, at one point late in 2016, I watched a decluttering video where the woman cleaning said she’d been inspired by The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I was intrigued. A NYT bestselling book about… cleaning? I had to read it.
Well, I ended up being so inspired by the book that I completely Konmari-d my possessions after graduating. It took a long time. In search of other resources to help me pare down my stuff, I started reading minimalist blogs and watched the “Minimalism” documentary. I hadn’t been particularly attracted to the movement previously because I’d confused aesthetic minimalism–bare white walls, bamboo furniture, and succulents–with functional minimalism, which (in my own words) simply means learning to distinguish between what society says you need and what you actually need in order to be happy.
As a result of my newfound interest in minimalism, I became aware of another huge drain on the environment in addition to the food industry: consumer culture. In my opinion, cheap stuff and our willingness to buy it and dispose of it is a huge problem. I can’t believe more people aren’t talking about it! Consumer culture has become second nature to us, but we have to stop buying and throwing out cheap stuff if we’re ever going to save our planet in the long run. See “The Story of Stuff” for more information!
In Konmari-ing and minimizing my possessions, I found freedom from my stuff. I’ve found that the less I own, the less attached I am to my stuff. I haven’t missed a single item so far. I actually find it easier to get rid of things now.
Regulating My Digital Consumption
Currently, I’m focusing on cutting down on my digital media consumption. I’ve realized how productive I can be when I strictly limit my time online. Plus, I’m currently reading The Shallows by Nicholas Carr about how the Internet is changing our brains. The information in that book is enough to make me want to get rid of my Internet completely, but I’m not going that far (yet).
I have decided, though, that when my smartphone quits on me in the not-so-far-off future, I won’t replace it. Unless I need one for work, I’m reverting to a dumbphone. It’s not a solution for everyone, but I’m excited to try it out!
Simple Living is What I Was Looking For
Often, people seem confused by my willingness–eagerness, even–to deprive myself of everything from out-of-season berries to a smartphone. How did Animal, Vegetable, Miracle lead me here? I’ll leave you with a quote that I think encapsulates the answer well.
After several months of eating only foods produced within 100 miles of their home, the Kingsolvers decide to treat themselves for the holidays. They buy a small bag of oranges. Kingsolver describes her young daughter’s reaction:
Lily hugged each one to her chest before undressing it as gently as a doll. Watching her do that as she sat cross-legged on the floor one morning in pink pajamas, with bliss lighting her cheeks, I thought: Lucky is the world, to receive this grateful child. Value is not made of money, but a tender balance of expectation and longing.
That’s the theme of the book that spoke to me from the very beginning. I believe that when we choose to live with less, we can deeply enjoy life’s small pleasures to a degree that we otherwise cannot. And that is exactly the kind of person I want to be: satisfied with a cup of tea and a good book, snow falling outside the window of my small apartment.
This journey is how I have become convinced that what’s best for the environment, for other people, for our bodies and our minds are truly one and the same. Not in every specific instance, to be sure, but in general: simple is best.