At the beginning of the July experiment I had to pay .75 for air for my bike tires - totally ridiculous - because that's what the gas station closest to my house sells it for. Since then, I've been on the lookout for free air. Last week, I remembered that my local bike shop gives away air when it's open (which requires a little planning). Last week I also went riding with a friend who has all the bike gear: a great bike, clips, shorts, water bottles, etc. He was giving me a hard time about my tires, indicating that I might be able to keep up with him if only I had more air in my tires. With his words ringing in my ears and perhaps feeling a little bad about my beater bike, sneaks, and secondhand gloves, I stopped at the bike shop for the free air. Now listen, I didn't think my tires were really flat, but since he's got all the gear and obviously knows all about bikes, I filled my tires as full as I could and rode away. Later that night, I'm working peacefully in my apartment and of course one of the tires explodes! So now I've got to change the tube - lucky for the Pseudo Freegan Challenge I had one kicking around - and go back to the .75 place!
All for a little free air. Serves me right.
Yeah, so I might have been winning the July Pseudo-Freegan Challenge last week but this week I am a goner. Like Arduous, I was in an unsustainable city having a blast eating, drinking, and driving, with a little swimming, biking, and shopping thrown in. And lots and lots of ice cream. I kind of forgot that when people go to new places they go shopping, I guess to see if the tacky crap they have is different from the tacky crap they sell at home...? My friend and I were no exception, which is funny 'cause usually I can't stand shopping. Luckily Austin has some great thrift stores and one that sells clothes and gifts by local designers only. I managed to walk away from the mainstream sexy shoes and designer jeans I tried on and stick with a goofy belt, new sneaks, and some pants that I'll probably end up cutting into shorts, all from a thrift store. As for the rest, the only durable goods I bought were a catalogue for an exhibition I saw and a newspaper. Oh, and I bought the sunglasses before I left, partly as a way to ward off a big splurge over the weekend.
A goofy couple of days not thinking about consumption kinda makes the rest of my low-impact life possible. It's not that I hate living on nothing or resent trying to make conscious habits unconscious, sometimes it's just nice not to think about it so much. Of course it's all about the journey, but rewards are nice, too - why go to all the effort if there's nothing to enjoy at the end of the day?
JFK Airtrain - $10
Hotel & car - $210
Food - $85.56
Beverages - $50.75
Things (thrift store, catalogue, newspaper) - $21.64
Experiences (pool, museum) - $11
Total trip: $388.95 (excluding the airfare - I paid for that a long time ago!!)
Usually I try to stay away from the exact things Colin Beavan blogs about, knowing that a lot of our readers overlap. But I'd like to add my two cents here, on the Sunday NYT article discussing the use of marketing strategies for social/humanitarian causes. It's pretty fascinating, providing a good primer for marketing strategies over the last 20-odd years, and it brings up some interesting possibilities. I absolutely agree with the article's conclusion that positive, non-stuff movements have got to make use of every strategy that works -- and if the advertising people spent a ton of money figuring out how to get people to do things, then that money should be put to good use, shouldn't it?
I do get a little freaked in the details, though, and feel like Cassandra for having whined for a year about how advertisers make us habitually need stuff we don't with claims of things being "good" and "healthy" for us. More to the point, I'm disturbed by how it is by making an entire nation of people feel "icky" that the advertising campaign mentioned in the article can get people to wash their hands. How disappointing that people need to feel shame and dirtiness in order to make a change. I think there's a translation to efforts to cut back on consumption, but I'm not exactly sure what that means - do we have to make other people feel bad about it? That's what I've been trying to avoid!
Finally, did anyone notice that "consumers in North America alone spent $650 million buying Febreze [in the most recent fiscal year]"? And people are starving, dying of treatable health problems, and living in boxes! But one woman's Febreze is another woman's designer jeans. Or sunglasses. Or meat. (Austin update tomorrow.)
I'm off on an adventure this weekend, where the money (and probably margaritas) will flow freely, so I wanted to post something to record my pre- fall from grace. So far I've spent $46.74 - on food, gifts, entertainment, laundry, and air for my bike tires. I find that number shockingly low for my usual tally, but when I examine the items, I certainly could have gone without all of them comfortably, except maybe the 75 cents for air.
Using Arduous's methodology, comparing last month to this month, last month I spent $11.41 on food per day (times 10 days that would have been $114.10). I also spent $11.49 on health/beauty; $4.50 on entertainment (shows, drinks, etc.); $21.99 on travel, gifts, and etc. -- these numbers are all per day. With this (albeit a little crazy) logic, by June 10, I would have spent $493.90. That means I've reduced my spending by 90% - not too bad. Putting the Pseudo in the Pseudo-Freegan Challenge, I'd say. This weekend it will be nuts in comparison: I haven't yet paid for the hotel or rental car, so that will be a considerable amount of cash. I'll also be paying for meals and drinks and shows, with some thrift stores thrown in -- I may be up to the $493 by the time I get back...
The biking is a terrific success, putting me in a great mood by the time I reach the office each day. I have noticed something, though: I'm whizzing by a bunch of amazing smells on an empty stomach...normally I would (seriously!) stop and grab something delicious (a coffee, bakery item, egg sandwich, etc.) but had to remind myself of the challenge this week. There is plenty of perfectly edible food available once I get to work. Food was one of the things I allowed myself to buy during Fix (in moderation), so it's almost like a knee-jerk reaction to treat myself...last year I wrote a lot about how buying is really related to our rewards systems, making it a much more psychological beast than it might seem at face value. This just cements the idea even more for me, particularly now that I (unconsciously?) hooked buying to a real physical desire - hunger. Sure am looking forward to that barbeque and ice cream this weekend!
Last night I went to a community meal hosted by some folks in Brooklyn, something I've been wanting to check out for some time. From their site:
We are a small group of people who do a lot of other things in New York, like decorate subways and throw parties in the streets. At Grub we're just offering dinner. Whether you are active in other collectives, your neighborhood, your backyard garden, or just new to town, we invite you to our table. To get a little squishy, we are looking for practical ways to build community. We are particularly inspired by weekly dinners served at squats in Amsterdam and Berlin, where you can get a cheap, tasty meal and catch up with friends in a cozy room. We like parties as much as anyone, but we think there should be places to talk without a pounding sound system.
Some of the other listings I've seen for the event mention that 99% of what they serve is freegan, collected from dumpsters behind supermarkets and other sources. I liked the community idea and the freegan idea but felt way too shy to go by myself. One of my faithful readers, Julia The Wounded Chef, who is newly mad about cooking and sustainibility, generously offered to accompany me. Thus began a series of firsts and a bike ride on a beautiful Sunday evening.
I wasn't sure what to expect. I had a general idea who might be involved, but hadn't met any of them myself. I went to one of the aforementioned dinners in Berlin, as part of a magical wine-fueled evening that ended on the Night Bus, one of the most hilarious European inventions. That seemed less intimidating somehow -- more Left Bank and less gutter-punk -- even while my Berlin friend was telling me about it. I guess I've been to enough Critical Mass and Time's Up events to be afraid of having my faux-freeganism to be taken to task by someone who hasn't had a job or apartment in several years. I took the copy of Newman's Own Guide to a Good Life (thanks Student Doctor Green!) out of my backpack and replaced it with a Brooklyn-produced art magazine, lest my bag fall open mid-dinner and I lose all of my cred.
Turns out I needn't be worried: these people were friendly and fun, mostly talking about food and aparments and other non-militant topics while we looked out over the BQE from the roof garden. My vegetarian dinner, pictured here, was terrific - salad and cooked greens and zucchini flowers and frittata and bread and "weird pasta" and chocolate-beet cake. One of the girls who helped prepare it said that the food had come from someone's garden (the flowers), a CSA share (bought for this purpose?), behind a grocery store nearby, as well as some leftovers from a local Food Not Bombs group. As I mentioned in my previous post, I paid $5 but probably could have gotten away with contributing nothing; their sign mentioned that the organizers had spent $36 on the meal, which served approximately 40 or 50. I noticed only two unwashed khaki-and-black-clad guys with big packs, who bolted right after the food. Everyone else looked like most of the other people I've encountered in Brooklyn - maybe even less bike-ey and more art-y and garden-y. As we were leaving, the hosts begged us to take from this pile of vegetables - they had too much and were going to compost whatever didn't get grabbed. I walked away with a bunch of sunflower sprouts and a head of lettuce. Thanks, Grub!
When the guy came to our office to talk about the company's 401k plan, he asked the group of new employees to consider how much they spend on a weekend. He then asked us to compare that to what we spend during the week and paused for emphasis. "When you're retired, it's the weekend all the time." His company's estimate is that people spend three times as much on the weekend as they do during the week. So I was a little concerned about how much I might spend or be tempted to spend over the three-and-a-half-day weekend. I got away with spending $5.15 on food -- not too bad, I think.
Admittedly, I was at home a lot - I have a big project I'm working on and I was a little sick - but still I went out a few times and saw a couple of my friends. I went to a free museum party for the Fourth - an option my friend and I were both delighted to find. After we left, we found a stoop out of the rain and talked for another two hours; neither of us felt like buying a drink or dessert we didn't really want just to be sitting somewhere. (If it had been nice, we would have just gone to the park.) On Saturday, I went to another friend's to use her food processor to make veggie burgers and bread crumbs out of stuff from my freezer (and the jalapeno I bought). An expert cook, she watched me clumsily make my way around her well-appointed kitchen and take an extraordinarily long time; I enjoyed catching up with the details about her upcoming wedding and honeymoon, her job, and various other bits of news. Finally, I had my first face-to-face meeting with Julia from blogland; we went to a freegan meal together (more on that tomorrow or Tues). The funny thing is, I contributed $5 for the "freegan" dinner; the sign they had posted over the collection jar noted that they were trying to raise the $36 that they had spent. I'm sure I could have gotten away with not contributing but it was such a lovely meal. Free is never really free, is it? Someone has to collect the ingredients and make the dishes, even if it is a great time.
I took money out of the ATM on Saturday, just to have some, but didn't end up spending it, probably a first for me in an NYC weekend. Without any pressure to spend money (errands, etc.) - indeed, the pressure to not spend money - I feel like there is more space to concentrate on the things I want/need to be doing. The only thing I got far enough to turn down was a pair of $19.99 polarized sunglasses at the drugstore, where I went to pick up a prescription. The headaches have been killing me, and I'm wondering if some dark or polarized glasses might help. Twenty bones is a lot for this little experiment, except last week I looked at some that were $200 and almost got 'em as a Happy Birthday To Me. I might change my mind this week - $20 seems pretty reasonable in comparison.
So, Megan, you're gonna be a freegan for a month? OMG, what are you going to eat?!?! Don't freegans eat out of the trash?!?!!
I'll be eating food. I have a nice advantage in that my office feeds me two meals a day, four days a week. The amount thrown out at the end of every day is astonishing. I guess this could be considered eating out of the trash. And I guess eating my own leftovers, thrown in the freezer to be eaten at some unforseen date, could also be considered eating trash. I'd like to see how low my food budget can go (despite the work food, it remains surprisingly high): I have tons of stuff just sitting in my cabinets and fridge, making me feel guilty for letting it hang around so long. I also tend to make and eat the same thing over and over - it's about time I get a little creative with what I've got and venture into new territory!
OMG, what if you need something?!?!!
I'll buy it. This isn't about killing myself. But realistically, what do we really need? We have physical needs, social needs, professional needs. My most basic needs are pretty much met all of the time. I live an incredibly rich life by global standards, with consistently clean water and functioning electricity every single day. A lot of people asked me last year why I didn't buy nondurable goods during Fix, like soap and toilet paper and toothpaste. Well, a lot of the time the need for these items, or particular kinds of these items, are manufactured by the companies that make them. I wanted to challenge myself to evaluate if I really needed something when I ran out of it and if there might be a more earth- and people-friendly option. Plus, some of this stuff, like cosmetics and other "health and beauty" items, have a way showing up and hanging around: in a gift basket, as a giveaway, etc. So I don't really need them very often.
How will you get around?
Well, I am fortunate to live in a city where the public transport is comprehensive and pretty affordable. (Oh, and this is a major reason why I live here, BTW. Cars are like kids: they cost a lot, you have to keep feeding them, you have to worry if they're sick, where you left them, etc. Not ready for that yet.) I usually spend $80 a month on my monthly Metrocard and then a little more on cabs or fixing my bike. This month, though, I'd like to rely more on my bike when my pass runs out on the 8th. I've always wanted to see how much I could integrate my bike into my life - this seems like a great opportunity! I'll reserve the possibility that I'll probably need to ride the subway late at night or if I'm carrying a bunch of crap, but I'll just pay as I go and see how often I really need it in the good weather. Believe it or not, some people I know don't use the subway at all: they exclusively bike or walk in New York City -- even in the winter.
Are you gonna dumpster dive?!?!
Maybe, if I find a good guide. But I think I already do...I've been going to clothing swaps for a couple of years now, my furniture is mostly cast-offs, my books are all read by someone at least once already. My grandparents have been teaching me about being freegan for a good long time now, and it hasn't really involved Dumpsters.
I know, everyone else in the eco-blogosphere switched from conventional toothpaste a billion years ago. But I've been a little squeamish (and busy) (and lazy) and haven't gotten around to trying the homemade variety yet. The salt thing kinda grosses me out. So I've been using all the little travel tubes I have around from the dentist etc., which is dumb because what am I going to take on my upcoming weekend adventure? Anyway, I am In It To Win It and not buying anything so I made some for July and maybe beyond if it works out. Thanks to Life Less Plastic for the salt-free recipe - I didn't use the vodka because I didn't have any and this is a competition, remember?
Ahem, is there a prize or something?
So, as you may have read over at Arduous's blog, I've embarked on a month of not buying anything. Anything at all.
What does this mean? I've paid my July rent, I'll pay my electricity and gas. My phone and internet are paid for (work and freeload). TV isn't an issue - I haven't had one years, though I'd love to watch So You Think You Can Dance? sometime (some of my earliest dance friends and teachers are on that show...NYC folks feel free to invite me over some Wednesday). I have a couple of regular co-pays, and a considerable amount of debt, which I may be able to contribute a little more towards this month. Everything else will be catalogued.
Why? I already did a year of not buying anything new. I'm still sorting out what that meant...In a way Fix was pretty easy, and I'd like to investigate a little further how dependent on the system I really am. I am constantly astonished by how much abundance and waste we live in: our solitary lives mean we have these little stores of things we never use or even think about. There are so many free things out there that make me happy - I'd like to force myself to revisit them. I spend a considerable amount of time thinking and worrying about money, my future with jobs that will make no money, and the things I could buy with money. I spend so much time on these and related matters that I don't read the apartment-ful of books I've already got; I can't find the time for a long phone conversation with a friend far away; I have lists and lists of experiments I'd like to try but haven't gotten around to. Arudous inspires me daily with her posts: not only is she a terrific writer, she considers things in a nuanced and self-aware way; I thought a friendly competition with her might challenge me to write a little more, something I'd like to be focusing on in the coming months. Finally, with the Fix restrictions lifted, I've been a little happy with the credit card - not good in these hard times.
Generally, I think freeganism utterly depends on the abundance and waste of this society and often crosses the mooch line, which I am vehemently against. I am not against efficiency, however, and I think a lot of people would agree that we live in a terrifically inefficient society. "Freegan" often elicits images of unwashed bike people dumpster diving, which might not be entirely fair: I'd like to investigate. (I'm not even against dumpster diving, BTW, but, like Arudous, wouldn't try it without an experienced guide. There's a regular freegan dinner hosted in Brooklyn that I will try to attend this month.) I hypothesize that, as with Fix, the real challenges start over a very extended period of time - I might just be pushing my buying to June 30 and Aug 1. I didn't do much in the way of preparations: my farmer's market run was a little bigger than usual this Saturday, I bought some toilet paper (100% PCW of course!), and an extra couple of boxes of pasta. I even bought my sister's birthday present ahead of time - unheard of! But that's about it.
What are my big challenges? I'll be going to Austin for a weekend celebration...unlike Arduous, I haven't paid for the hotel already, which will be a considerable amount of cash. I don't intend to let the Pseudo Freegan challenge slow down the fun there, though we won't be living too high on the hog. I also have a hard time saying no to my friends and their entertainment ideas, particularly those with whom I'm tired of arguing about Fix and related ideas. Money is a social currency, too. I've got a couple of class cards for dance studios around town that need using up, though I'm thinking about taking a workshop that could be pretty expensive. I'm helping out with a bridal shower and couldn't get to the cloth napkins I promised. I'm hoping maybe some Austin thrift stores will have some funky ones. Worst case scenario, the bride's mom says she has some we can borrow. And I'll probably buy some special ingredients for some dishes I'm making - but I'll try to make something with the bajillion ingredients I've already got. Finally, I'm working on a project that opens upstate at the beginning of August; I'm sure I'll have to buy some art supplies, items I refuse to scrimp on.
Here goes nothing!
Arduous has written a coherent explanation of our cross-country July challenge over on her blog. I, on the other hand, prefer to give you a window into our process - that girl is funny! Plus, I'm lazier and less organized than Arduous...(I can feel myself losing this one already.)
Monday, April 21, 2008
I am seriously running low on ideas for my May challenge. Anyone have any bright ideas?
Friday, May 23, 2008 9:25 PM
From: "arduous blog" <email@example.com>
To: "megan metcalf" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dude, I can't believe you're even making me contemplate this. Crazy I tell ya!
Okay, let's start with food. How would we deal with fucking food? Because um between all the working and working, I don't have time to dive through the dumpsters of au bon pain.
Also, shit, I'm supposed to go to Vegas in July. Though technically I wouldn't have to spend much money as the hotel I've already paid for.
Friday, May 23, 2008 11:07 PM
From: "Megan Metcalf" <email@example.com>
To: "arduous blog" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I KNOW. Crazy. CRAZY.
Food. I have an unfair advantage in that my office provides breakfast and lunch. So I could just take the leftovers the four days I work and that would be it. But more interesting is that in my teeny tiny apartment with basically no kitchen I have enough food hanging around for an emerging nation. So really getting down to bare cupboards interests me...
As for Vegas, I am celebrating a big birthday in July and will likely travel so we could have a weekend jubilee...
What else do we need to buy? I'm doing laundry right now...could I skip it for a month? Probably, I have so many fucking clothes...the preparations and the failures would be part of it...methinks you're a tad competitive, definitely ambitious - unless I'm projecting too much of myself here...we could egg each other on.
What else? Shows? NYC has so many free ones in the summer. The prescriptions? No way, we're not that crazy.
Sorry if I'm raving - I might be developing a blogger-crush on you. Or maybe I'm just jealous: you'd have time for the ABP dumpster if you weren't friggin writing all the time!
Think of it ending your year with a bang. As for me, I've got to end the blog addiction soon and get back to the rest of my life...
Friday, May 23, 2008 11:45 PM
From: "arduous blog" <email@example.com>
To: "Megan Metcalf" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Let's see what else. Um, bills. I could do without phone and high speed internet for a month, but suspending them all would be a bitch. My monthly pass for the metro I'd definitely need. Oh, and I have some recurring donations to a few non-profits. I assume those don't count?
Maybe what we should do instead is try to compete as to who can buy the least?
I would say we could try to spend as little as possible. We could put up our spending tallies on our blogs for the whole world to see. And we could see how we do. That seems fairly manageable. Pseudo-freegan. And it would be a competition. Which would be fun, except yes, I do like to win. :)
Saturday, May 24, 2008 12:04 AM
From: "megan metcalf" <email@example.com>
To: "arduous blog" firstname.lastname@example.org
ooooooooooh, I didn't even think about bills. Of course we have to pay our rent and stuff. I don't pay for phone, internet, or tv but that would definitely be allowed as they are too much of a pain to put on hold. Good thing I fired my shrink a while back. I'd try to skip the MTA and ride my bike; I've been wanting to do that anyway. Recurring donations to 501c3, 401K, credit card debt, and 403b seems like fair game. Dance classes and drinks with friends would be my big holdup, I think...
I like the "who can spend the least" game!
Saturday, May 24, 2008 12:19 AM
From: "arduous blog" <email@example.com>
To: "megan metcalf" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Yeah. If you looked at my credit card bill, it is almost all restaurant charges. I eat out waaaaay too much.
Okay, so here's my proposal:
We compete to see who can spend the least
Exempted from our calculations are:
Rent other monthly bills (internet, phone, student loans, car loans, etc etc)
401k/all that crap
Everything else counts.
Here's what I'm thinking. Some cheating is okay. For example, if you want to promise to clean your friend's house in exchange for dinner that's allowed. Gift certs seems like it would be cheating though....
Hmmm ... is it cheating if I buy a metro pass on june 30th and don't buy my new one until august?
Saturday, May 24, 2008 12:29 AM
yes it's cheating but we would blog about it