My effort to use less doesn’t always come easily.
As a product of my own over-consuming and unconscious society, I’m constantly forced to bring more awareness to my actions to avoid the hyper-consumption of the industrial economy. This is made no easier by being immersed in a culture that constantly tells me to…
- Take the easy way out
- Live the high life
- Get a newer/better/shinier model
…all because “I DESERVE IT!”
The onus, apparently, is entirely on me to transcend messages specifically designed to influence my behavior to the messenger’s ends and instead make choices that aren’t so me-centric, considering the larger reality in which “I” dwell.
Like Kermit said, “It ain’t easy being green”
Well, just like most people, I don’t have hyper-consciousness about my behavior just hovering around my mind space waiting to be drawn on. I have to actively think about my options, including the less appealing but more holistic ones, and then exercise some will in order to make the best choices.
I had one such opportunity this past week.
Newer, better, shinier
My teen-aged daughter griped that her straightening iron didn’t seem to work very well anymore and wasn’t making her hair smooth, shiny and delightful. (Yes, we have straightening irons and curling irons in our house. We try to use them sparingly.)
Though my husband and I are seriously underemployed and cash is tight, my first instinct was to say, “Well maybe it’s time for a new one.” In that split second I calculated that sure, we could afford $17-$32 bucks or so for a replacement.
In the next split second I also thought, “Ugh, Wal Mart,” because no locally-owned shop selling curling irons came to mind. Even if they did, they too would likely be importing the product from China. There’s not exactly a bastion of “local production” on the electronics front…yet. So I resolved to bite the bullet and hit the big box, nose plugged and all, this past weekend.
Boy am I glad this decision didn’t really have to be made in a split second.
A wild hair
Coincidentally I got my hair cut this past week after six long months without a trim. (Even the conservation-minded want to look less-than-Neanderthal from time to time.)
My stylist, Virginia Glenn, works her incomparable magic at Bella Boutique, a green salon in nearby Charlottesville. So mid-coiffe I asked Virginia if I could clean the burnt-on hair residue and product goop from the barrel of the curling irons without ruining them.
“Easy,” she said. “Just make a little paste of water and baking soda and gently scrub it off. Put a little elbow grease into it.”
It’s time to change, you’ve got to rearrange, who you are and what you want to do
In earlier incarnations of my life I would never have bothered with this. Like so many others I would have chucked the offending curling iron into the landfill and bought the new one. It’s not so much that I am callous, or rich. It’s just that for so long goods have been so cheap that replacing them at the first sign of trouble is the cultural norm today.
And it’s so easy to miss the connection between how far cheap goods from China travel, despoiling our oceans, air and climate en route that we can buy and toss, buy and toss with no thought of anything but our own convenience.
But now that I’m starting to be not only more aware of my personal use-impact, but concerned enough to shift my lifestyle even more deeply, I now question every purchase much more thoroughly. I loathe the idea of contributing more to the landfill—both an old curling iron and a bunch of new cardboard and plastic packaging—which makes me pause and ask if there’s another way to get what I want. In this case, a curling iron that works. So I took Virginia’s tip and did the following:
- Unplugged the curling and straightening irons.
- Unscrewed their joint fittings to open them up more widely.
- Made and applied the paste, scrubbing gently.
- Dried everything off completely.
- Rescrewed the elements back together.
- Tested and discovered that once again the heat elements can conduct now that the buildup is gone.
- Styled our hair to look like foxes.
Compare and contrast
The basic fifteen minutes or so that this process took (except the styling like foxes part) was less time than it would have taken me to schlep to and from Wal-Mart, though ours is only about two miles from the house. It also saved me the harrowing and unpleasant experience of stepping foot inside the mega-warehouse of off-gassing doom that is Wal-Mart. It saved me not only the $17-$32, but also the temptation (and cost) of picking up any other cheap imports that I may or may not have actually “needed.” And of course it helped save the landfill.
But more than all this, rejuvenating the curling iron revived in me some cultural or maybe even genetic memory that indeed I am capable of maintaining and even fixing my goods, adding years to their use-life and flouting the Pavlov Dog’s tendency to capitulate to planned obsolescence. It taught me what generations of people before us always knew, which is that resources are precious and we have to treat them with respect and not arrogance.
And maybe best of all, I took one step closer to never going to the big boxes for anything, which in my own small way (and increasingly among Americans) helps to fight the pollution and plutocracy paradigm through direct and indirect boycott.
We have to make our dollars go further. And we have to create the world we want—friendlier, more local, less stressful, more engaging—through every choice we make. One day that may even include just letting our hair be whatever our hair is. But I hope not. Even a long, long time ago Cleopatra liked putting on the dog.
–Lindsay Curren, Lindsay’s List