The Cusp of Consumption
For anyone who wants to craft a message for the general public, be it a piece of political propaganda, a viral facebook post, or a call to arms by an environmental activist, you can’t tell people they have to consume less. No one wants to hear that. It’s popular suicide.
Everyone wants to heal the earth, everyone wants the American Dream of social mobility, everyone wants the consumption lifestyle we had in the 90’s, but the harder we try to achieve these things without honestly addressing our need to lower consumption, our efforts will be thwarted and we will ultimately be degrading our quality of life. The earth can’t support the lifestyle of the 90’s or even the degraded quality of life we live now. It’s physics. It’s the conclusion of all the climate change science that we’ve debated for the last twenty years and have now (publicly) conceded is accurate.
I see the same headlines everywhere: “people are unhappy“, “people need jobs”, “poverty creates conflict”, “the government is a slave to big oil”, “we need growth!”
Those are all symptoms, not causes. Everyone of us needs to pursue the answer to one question: “How can I consume less?”
That is the cusp, the essence, of the tipping point that I’ve reached in my life. I feel like a one-eyed man in the land of the blind. I’ve vastly reduced my consumption and my life has gotten much better. Far from closing doors, it has opened them. And I see the same thing in other peoples lives when they reduce their consumption as well. The more I am able to reduce my consumption, the better my life gets.
I know several wealthy people and I wouldn’t trade my life with any of them. I know several minimalists who barely eek out a living and I would trade places with them in a heartbeat. I’m talking about Candice Burt, Stormy, Katie and Mark, Teresa and Ben, Adam Nash, and Emily Richmond. All these people are pursuing different life passions and it is their embracing of a low-consumption lifestyle that enables them, rather than hinders them.
How I Have Cut ConsumptionLet me give you some examples of how drastically I have cut consumption in my life: Because I own my boat outright and live aboard it, my ‘rent’ for the moorage slip is about $220 per month. My utility bills for water, sewer, garbage, heat, and electricity amounts to about $20 per month. I have a storage unit, which makes living aboard much easier, which costs about $190 per month, but I will probably get rid of this in the next year or two. These costs of living are greatly reduced from what I spent when living in a house.
I’m not a great cook, so I eat out a lot, but I usually go for the happy hour, low budget stuff. With very few exceptions, my meals cost less than $10. I fish, forage, and farm, so a lot of the food I do cook, I get for free. For the last few months, I have been brewing wine with the intention to use it to trade for food at farmer’s markets and with farmer friends. (FYI, this is illegal. I’m practicing civil disobedience.)
All the money that I used to spend now goes towards my debt and upgrades to the boat. In the next month, I will finish the insulation of the hull in preparation for winter. I expect my heating costs to be a fraction of what they were last winter, which wasn’t much to begin with. While grid power is only a flip of a switch away, I expect my wind turbine and off-grid power system to fulfill almost all of my electricity needs.
Right now, my day-to-day life isn’t too exciting. I work a 9-5 like everyone else. In the evening I jog and work on my boat. There is nothing flashy about living frugally and paying down debt. Right now I’m a weekend warrior, but I am working towards big adventures in the next year or two. The people I mentioned above show what adventures a lifestyle of low consumption can lead to.
Taking Personal Action
I recently read a blog post by Joshua Ellis, entitled Everyone I Know is Brokenhearted, and a similar article on MarketWatch. The thing I liked about Ellis’ post is that it is an honest, personal, and concise cry of despair. That is where I started a few years ago. He gives voice to the fear and loathing I felt when I lived in Seattle. How can people concerned with the environment make an impact when they don’t reduce their energy consumption? How can we change a corrupt government when we clearly do not live in a democracy?
I started to find answers through books such as Sacred Economics, True Wealth, and Capitalism 3.0. But I grew disillusioned with ideas on what we can do as a society. Those notions are well and good. They are important and have their place, but what I really longed for was guidence as to what I can do. Here. Now. On my own. What actionable steps can I take now to hedge my well being against an uncertain future? How can I ensure I come out on top weather the future turns into the economic collapse of a zombie apocalypse or a decentralized, collaborative future where we all sing kumbaya while responsibly protecting our commons?
For me, the answer is my boat. It lies in lowering my consumption without lowering my quality of life. It lies in using wind to power my transportation and electronics instead of fossil fuels. It lies in knowing that a whole lot more people will be worse off than me in a dystopian future, and knowing I’ll have the leisure time to help my friends, family, and community given any likely future outcome. The personal actions I’ve taken give me peace of mind and go a long ways towards a feeling of contentment and life happiness.
The life I have chosen to live will not work for many people, but it is my hope that this blog empowers others to cut their consumption and take similar, personal actions in their lives.