Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A story about someone who's doing it right.

Voice of America News
Simpler, Greener Lifestyle Creates Wealth, Happiness
By Faiza Elmasry
30 October 2008

Sharon Astyk is a stay-at-home mother of four children. Seven years ago, her family was barely getting by on her husband's salary as a teacher. They decided they could live better by simplifying their lives. As VOA's Faiza Elmasry tells us, the Astyks represent a small but growing number of Americans who are paring down and cutting back and, in doing so, finding financial relief and a measure of happiness.

..."We started saying, 'OK, we're never going to be rich.' My husband was a teacher. I was staying at home with our son. We started asking, 'How can we live as well as possible?'"

They found the answer in leaving Boston and moving to rural upstate New York.

"One of the ways we could do that was if we could consolidate our housing with our extended families," she says. "In the United States, this is not the norm the way it is in other parts of the world. Generally speaking, everyone has his household. Everybody lives separately. But my husband's grandparents were getting to a point where they could no longer manage things on their own. We bought a house with them in the country, and we cared for them until the end of their lives."

Family Strives For Simplicity by Producing Own Food, Sharing, Conserving

"What we started doing was something that was quite normal in the U.S until maybe 50 years ago and is still normal in many parts of the world," she says. "We started producing more of our food. We started sharing resources with our family and bartering with our neighbors. We tried really hard to stay out of debt. That meant when we didn't have enough money to do things, we just didn't do them."

That lifestyle, she notes, is a more environmentally friendly one.

"We only have one car for our family, which is unusual," she says. "That means when my husband has the car, I don't have one and I'm home with the kids. We just walk places or we bicycle or we don't go anywhere."

The family also worked to reduce carbon emissions from their use of energy and other resources. "We divided it up into seven categories: electricity, transport fuel, heating and cooling energy, consumer goods, water and others," she says. "And we've gotten to 80 percent reduction in every category. We're getting much and much closer to the use of energy that people in India or China are using right now."

Recycling is another way the Astyks save money and resources. "When something broke, we could say to our neighbors. 'Oh, do you have one? Can we borrow it?' And we could offer something in return to them," she says. "It was very simple to find sources of things that were being either thrown away or underused, or people were willing to share."

...Growing numbers of people already have started to adopt a greener, simpler lifestyle, Astyk says. "That's really wonderful, and [it's] not only in the U.S., but all over the world," she says."There is the Compact, which started in the United States on the West Coast, which has people buying only used things and leading a much simpler life. There is the Voluntary Simplicity Movement started by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robins that have million of members all over the world.

"There are really a lot of people who are trying to figure out how to live a decent life in a world that is shifting. I think as the costs of energy and food and other basic things have risen, there is more and more interest and more and more sense that not only might this be a good choice for reasons of pleasure or environmental reasons, but we may have to live like this.

"As the financial crisis deepens here, I think Americans are going to live more like their grandparents or their great-grandparents, and there is a lot of interest in finding out how to do that." Astyk says living a simpler life has another benefit for her family, beyond the financial aspect. It's helped her children see how they can consume less, save more and create a more meaningful life.

The article also discusses a book called "Go Green, Live Rich: 50 Simple Ways to Save the Earth" by David Bach. I haven't read it, but more to the point, my position is that you don't "go green" to save the Earth, you adopt sustainable practices because it's best for your family and your community economically. "Saving the Earth," is just an added bonus for those who think it can be "saved" in that manner. In reality, Peak Oil is going to cut carbon emissions so much, by practically eliminating private automobiles, that all other methods of "saving" the Earth pale by comparison.

The point of weaning ourselves off of petrochemical products and returning to the Household Economy and multi-generational housing, homeschooling and community cooperatives (including barter and borrowing societies) are steps we can take to preserve a decent quality of life and keep our local economies intact regardless of what's going on in the outside world. We should never have linked our Culture and Economic system with that of the West in the first place. Having done so, returning to the simple and sustainable lifestyles of our not-so-distant forebears is the only viable way to get back on a viable track.

Yes, it can be done, if we are willing to do it - willing to give up rampant consumerism, keeping-up-with-the-goldstein-ism, and the something-for-nothing mentality the Ravs have promulgated in our communities. Our family budgets are getting ready to face an economic triage - if we cling to what is not important at the expense of what truly is, the prognosis will be very bad.

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