Last summer, I developed my personal “commandments,” as part of an exercise in exploring my own values and guiding principles in life. I set an intention for 2019 to be a year of aligning my spending with my values, so I think it is past time for a deeper exploration of each commandment and how it plays out in my life. Today, I’ll explore what I mean by “Respect Resources.”
Respecting resources is a foundation of my frugality as an adult. It’s brought me around to a greater interest in sustainability and environmental stewardship, but really it’s a part of my philosophy that is greater than just saving money or the planet.
I’ve always lived a bit too out of touch with the material reality of things. Part of it was my overly-intellectual, nutty-professor self (indulged by a family of similarly brainy individuals), and part of it was the privilege of being raised in an upper-middle-class, suburban area where anything that wore out or was used up could be bought from a store for an amount we could afford (ah… capitalism and economic privilege in the 80s).
It’s taken me a long time to recognize the importance of understanding where things in my life come from and the resources that went into the making of those things. Respecting resources, while certainly related to environmental concerns and issues, encompasses more than just saving gas and buying less plastic junk. It’s my reminder to myself to understand the economic principles that govern objects in my life. To maintain and repair the items that bring me value and to avoid those purchases that support abusive practices (after all, slavery in the US would have died out in the early 1800s–or at least not been so horrific–if the demand for cotton in the west had not been so insatiable). Resources can include time, labor, and expertise, too, but I need to remind myself about the material resources more specifically.
When I was younger, I consciously chose not to embrace environmentalism. Not because it is unimportant or because I was insensitive to the ways in which the abuse of our planet has threatened our abundance as a species and others. It came down to the fact that I felt the sins we committed against each other–those violations of humanity such as war, genocide, poverty, child abuse, human trafficking, etc.–were more essential to address. I felt these atrocities were more pressing, imminent, and tragic than the trees in the Amazon or the ozone hole over Australia. Who cared that a species was endangered when actual, human children were left to starve to death?
So I gave myself permission to not care that much about reducing waste, carbon emissions, globalization, or conservation. I cared about more essential, human things (I told myself, smugly). I spent hours debating the causes of the Holocaust, and how great it was that the apartheid in South Africa was ending. I volunteered with homeless shelters and soup kitchens. I began my long relationship with working at the hotline.
Just like my excuses about not contributing financially to charity because I taught in public schools and did a lot of volunteer work, I have come to realize that it’s not so simple as an either-or choice between conservation and humanitarian issues. As I get older, I recognize that the fight for oil (a natural resource) has caused many of our major recent wars. That the suburban development which plunders our lands also displaces affordable housing. That starvation is often caused by the whims of commerce. That poverty leaves humans more vulnerable to the crazy weather patterns caused by climate change.
Part of this wisdom is the same wisdom that has helped me work to maintain my own material possessions and reduce my frivolous purchases. It makes my pursuit of minimalism both necessary and challenging. Respecting resources in a globalized economy is quite complex and challenging, but I try to do my best to keep working at it.
Here are some ways I am intentional about respecting resources in my life:
- I have been a vegetarian/pescatarian for almost 20 years.
- I buy technology and transportation for longevity and don’t “upgrade.”
- I don’t buy many new clothes (thrift shops have always been my jam), and I try to maintain my clothes to last. I wear most things 2-3 times before washing; I line dry a lot of clothes.
- I repurpose containers that the food and other consumable goods I purchased came in.
- I reduce food waste through meal planning, kitchen scrap gardening, composting, and veggie stock prep.
However, I have a long way to go. I am making steps in this direction by continuing to become more aware and respect the resources in my life.