Friday, March 30, 2012

A Bad Month . . . kind of

This month we have not been very faithful to blogging or to our task. Perhaps when we started we gave ourselves the easy way out. As my wife mentioned, we already do a variety of things that help us reduce waste so part of me believes that this month was a waste. What good did it do to take bulbs out, take shorter showers, and do things we already do (recycle, compost). But I know that is just my desire to do something "BIG" coming out.

Although this month felt slower, it did have some significant impacts.

1) Longevity - This month increased our consciousness about how much we waste. I do believe that most of the time I will take shorter showers, I will not use the lights just to make the room "brighter",  I will rethink about the packaging on food items, etc. Because the month wasn't intense, I believe many of the aspects may be interwoven in the vision of my future (and Alyssa and my future together). Instead of things being "special" they can be normalized behaviors in our life.

2) Reinforcement - Although we already participate in recycling and composting. This intentional month reinforced these actions. And challenged me to better consider how and what I recycle and compost.

3) Intentional Compromise - Not using the heat was annoying. We had a cold March in Santa Barbara (which means 55 during the day) and the nights were very enjoyable. Alyssa and I would come home and put sweats on and eventually get into the bed with blankets (multiple blankets and Alyssa would always try to cuddle . . . .). At one point, it was not longer helpful to have the heat off. We weren't sleeping as well, Alyssa had taken all my body heat, and we were both getting a little agitated with each other. We decided to set a limit (around 64 degrees) to the heater. If we didn't compromise then, by now the heat would be 70+, I may have had no body heat left, and we would be ending the month still agitated.  Because we compromised, we are adjusted to 64 and probably will keep that as our standard temperature when we use heat (We like each other too . .  . and my body is doing just fine). Too often compromise is labeled failure, but it can be an honest readjustment of goals towards something that makes more sense. We realized this change was too fast for us and that if we wanted it to stick that we needed to slow down . . .

This next month might be hard though . . . 7 items of clothes a week. . . stick around for the details.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

March: Adopting 7 ways to reduce waste really must be busy for us as we've been struggling lately to keep up with our blogging. February seemed to be crazy for us--Josh's job was literally crazy all month, some challenges for us occurred, we traveled quite a bit on the weekends, and I took on more and new responsibilities at work. Needless to say, we have felt emotionally and physically drained in many ways. However, it didn't stop us from our journey to simplify :)

Giving away possessions for me last month was difficult. Our goal was to each give something away each day. I must say, Josh was pretty good about this and did a great job of thinking about this everyday. I, however, was too overwhelmed with daily life to think about the one thing I wanted to give away. It was easier for me to take one day and get rid of a lot of things all at once. Hence, the picture in the previous post. I actually felt relieved to get rid of things I didn't need anymore. So refreshing and freeing!! So, I'd say I gave away more than 28 items but I struggled with having to think about it

For this month, we are going to be adopting 7 ways to reduce waste. We already do some of them, but this is what we're doing:

1) Reduce the use of light--Josh has taken out some lightbulbs in our apartment. This has been hard for me as I like BRIGHT lights! It helps me to feel secure when I'm home by these next 5 days while Josh is away at a conference.

2) Not using heat--This was SO difficult this last week as there were multiple nights during the week where it was really cold. One night, I slept with 3 blankets, long sleeves, and long pants.

3) Buying only local fruits and vegetables--Going to the Farmer's Market, Whole Foods, and another local place called Tri-County Produce

4) Composting--Josh takes care of this. We have a tub on our back porch for composting. He puts our food scraps in there for the worms to eat.

5) Being mindful about how much we use our cars--We have 2 cars, so just trying to think more about how we use transportation.

6) 5 Minute Showers--This one is particularly hard for me. I love taking long, hot, showers!

7) The 2 that we already do that we will continue to do: recycling and bringing our own bags when we grocery shop

Thanks again for following us!

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Value of Stuff

We are in the midst of giving stuff away. The system we decided to follow dedicates at least two things a day to be given away. The way that it has worked out I (Joshua) have been doing much of the thinking and giving away. Some of the items have been my own things like clothes and books, but some have been collective items that I add and then ask Alyssa if she is comfortable giving that item away. 

Yesterday, we got rid of a ton of clothes and several other items. It was more than two items even if you count clothes as one, but we were just in a mood to clean some things out. Alyssa did not have to work until noon and I was off because of Presidents' Day and Westmont's four-day recess. We had a lot of time to just think about what we didn't need or use.

As I was walking around our apartment finding little things here and there, I realized that having a lot of stuff actually deteriorates from its value. Economics echo this, as long as there is some demand, when there are lots of something the value of that item goes down and when there are few the price goes up. That is why when I can go buy a used CD Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool for $1.50, but if I want the Limited Edition, Vinyl Import, Birth of the Cool will cost me a cool $88, used. In our life, all of the things we have clutter space and hearts. We loose the value of the important things. I don't think it is impossible to value items even when we have a lot, but it gets difficult to remember what is important when you have everything to choose from.

Things also become valuable because they play a particular role in our lives. The game of checkers has immense value in my life because my grandaddy and I used to sit on the porch for hours upon hours and play together (it may have only been minutes, but it felt like hours to a little boy). Checkers is still important, but I don't play the game much, we have other games to choose from so we play those. I have wanted to have a good checker board (my grandaddy's was lost somewhere), but I have not taken the effort to do so, because of all the other things, all the other games we have. However, an honest examination reveals that we really only have those games, we don't regularly play them, they aren't important. They are fun don't get me wrong, but they have little meaning and little value.

It seems to me that the less we have the more we value what we have.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

So we have been negligent towards our blog. Life has been incredibly busy and writing has gone down a couple of rungs, but we haven't neglected the journey.

This month has been focused on possessions. When Jen Hatmaker – who we were inspired by – did this exercise she and her family gave away 7 things a day. We considered such a move, but realized that with two people earlier on in our marriage (and thus less accumulation of random stuff) that 7 things might be a little presumptuous. Instead we each decided that we would give away one thing every day of the week (ideally then 7 things each a week, but leap year will throw us off, perhaps we will do 7 things on that last day). There aren't rules about giving away to anyone specifically so sometimes out gifts are towards individuals and sometimes to organizations.

So far it has not been too difficult to actually give things away, but it has taken more time than expected to think of what do give away. We are still on the journey and have about half a month left. Things are slowing down now so expect more posts (including a reflection on last month).  

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hospitable Reception

One of the surprising experiences I (Joshua) have had during our month of spending in only seven places is the forced practice of reception.

Last week Alyssa and I were hanging out on a lazy evening. Our lazy evenings are valuable considering my schedule as a Resident Director tends to be consistently inconsistent and constantly moving and this night was particularly valuable because later on I had a meeting to attend and the next night was to be spent at a roller rink with 100+ students. This particular lazy evening had us thumbing through the chalky pages of the local paper only to find free screening of the film 51 Birch Street - since taking up this endeavor we have developed a bit of a radar for free things. We decided to attend the film and invite my colleague/friend and her husband.

I didn't think anything of my invitation, but in the conversation with our friends I realized it was a bit awkward. Going out to a movie almost always constitutes dinner before or after and this was no exception . . . except . . . my colleague suggested that they could pay for us. She needed to check with her husband and then get back to me. I supported her proposal of gender equality/marital communication and reluctantly accepted her offer. But I felt guilty. My mind pondered, “why should they pay because of a decision that we made?”

The next day went by and I didn't think of the matter much – I was busy making a fool of myself at the skate rink, feeling like a fawn learning how to walk. I had a meeting with faculty members on Friday and since academicians like to pontificate and split hairs, my meeting went long. Making it to the film and dinner beforehand was going to be impossible so we ended up going to the campus Dinning Commons, which is free for Residence Directors. The difference between my confidence in a meeting with a room full of doctorate degrees and talking to friends about money was unbelievable. I went from emboldened to baby in the short trek from the administration building to the Dinning Commons.

We enjoyed the movie and had pretty much put the issue of money at the back of our minds again. But once we got to the car we could feel the tension. The front seats of our Rav4 filled with unsureness. I decided to ask about the money, but as the words came out I didn't know how to be direct, it was like I was in 5th grade trying to tell Tiffany, that cute girl in the front row, that I was crushing on her. Somehow through my clumsiness our query fumbled out of my mouth. To our surprise, they said, “you didn't get our text? We already said we would pay.”

It is strange to think about how much trepidation we had. It felt wrong to receive and even more wrong to ask for something despite the fact it had already been offered.

When we can buy, when we have power and control, we don't often receive well.

We get a lot of things in our lives, Christmas and birthdays are filled with gifts. But getting and receiving are different. When we get things, it is about us. It is the expectation because of an event, it does not feel sacrificial or very relational. Getting can include lowered appreciation and a reduction to things. Most of us have been trained to say, “thank you” when we get a gift, but I question how thankful we actually are. How quickly those gifts pass away for something new or they are just forgotten amongst the many other things in our life. Our appreciation of the things we get wains quickly. Moreover, we reduce our perspective when we get “things.” The primary focus is often on the “thing”. We marvel at a new book, a new dress, a new knife (my Christmas gift this year), and displace the real gift, which is the love in the giving of another person. The “thing” should just be an outward expression.

An attitude of reception allows for the giver and relationship be the emphasis. Receiving means letting someone else do something for us that we can't do ourselves. This expands "gift" away from primarily the things we get - we have the ability to get things for ourselves - and refocuses us on the relationships, love, and care we receive be it in the gift of a new car, loaf of bread, help with a project, or quality time. In our scenario above, what Alyssa and I received wasn't the 30 bucks for appetizers and beers afterwards, it was hospitality and love. We let others meet us where we were, in our context, and care for us.

We don't receive very well in our culture, we like to go it alone or fake that “we got this.” It is an expression of strength, though often a faux strength, that we constantly propose. But receiving means acknowledging imperfection and incompleteness. That is hard. That honesty requires fighting the myth of the self made man and the pulled up by bootstraps mentality. It means giving up control and power.

Within the Christian faith, rhetoric leads us to hospitably receive rather than transactionally get. Phrases about our faith are ,“Receive the Gospel” , “Receive the Sprit” , “Receive Redemption” . . . we do not talk about “getting.” Christianity values relationships with God and others. Salvation as a gift is not primarily about not going to hell, it is about being back in right relationship with God. It isn't just a “thing” of salvation, it is a relationship of reconciliation. A reconciliation that requires us to give-up control and power, expand out image of salvation, and receive the love of God.

Ultimately a real gifts are about receiving love.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Highs and Lows

I've also been reflecting on the highs and lows of our experiment so far this month. Here are mine:

-At the half way mark for the month, we had only spent half of what we normally do at this point
-The different situations that have come up, have allowed Josh and I to really talk and work through them...allowing us to connect more
-Being more aware of the impulse spending
-There are things we have learned so far this month that we would like to carry to the next few months

-Feeling bad for having to turn people down when we can't do things we are invited to because it's not in our 7 places
-Tagging on to the first one, feeling "un fun to be around"
-Not being able to give in to what I'd like to do (buy a new shirt, buy yummy dessert from a bakery, eating out at a nice restaurant, etc)

Thanks to everyone who reads this!

Birthday Celebrations...what to do?!

I apologize for the lack of updating! Life seems to be passing by and while I've had good intentions of blogging, I just haven't :)

So, there's only about a week left of January! I can't believe it. I remember thinking that the first week was taking forever and wondering how I was ever going to get through the month with only spending money in 7 places. In actuality, it really hasn't been that hard. We have had to think through some things though.

We had 2 friends who had birthdays this month and we had been invited to their birthday restaurants that weren't on our list. Josh and I ended up taking a walk one evening and I asked how this was going to work. Both the birthday celebrations were last week. We decided that this 7 Experiment is to help us in our spiritual practice and that the point was not to be legalistic about it. So what were we going to do? We decided that we wanted to honor our friends and celebrate them, as their friendships are important to us and we want to love them. We decided that I would get to go to one party (an all women party) and that the both of us would go to the other and that we'd allow ourselves to spend money there. We also decided that we wouldn't eat out at Fresco for the rest of the month because of this. At that time, the task seemed daunting. In my mind, and I think I said it too, I thought, "NO MORE EATING OUT THIS MONTH?!?!!?!" And then I thought...we were more than half way through the month. I stopped and paused further and reminded myself that this isn't the end of the world and that there are so many people who are not able to have the freedom to eat out freely when they want to. ended up that we didn't have to spend money at one of the events.