Throughout the last decade I’ve increasingly kept my wardrobe afloat with second-hand wares – jeans from a clothes swap, a top from a charity shop, a friend’s handed-on jumper. I’ve written before about how I’ve learned to make the most of the sometimes erratic preloved offerings that line shop rails. And in general, I’ve been able to find what I needed.
There have been occasions though, when I’ve picked up something new. A pair of brown brogues, after a nine-month search for second-hand proved unfruitful. A brilliant yellow mac as a birthday gift. There has been a pragmatism in these choices. But I also discovered something unexpected: a joy in wearing something newly, beautifully made. Continue reading →
I have a story to share. A sustainability fail. It went like this: we needed to buy new brush heads for our electric toothbrush. We decided to put in a bulk order, reckoning that this would mean that less packaging would be used overall (it would also be kinder on the purse in the long run). Good sustainability logic. Total fail in practice. The parcel arrived, and we opened it to find tens of packets containing just a few brush heads each.
This blog post arrives as a seasonal coincidence. This day, the Solstice, is apparently the true start of Winter. But in truth it’s felt pretty frosty for a while. We’ve been buried. Inside and under blankets, with a hot drink in hand. Outside and under woolly hats, with a hot drink in hand (in reusable cups picked up from Oxfam).
Despite my annual trepidation as summer fades, I’ve become better at finding joy in the nature of each season. I attribute much of this to gardening giving me a greater appreciation of the year’s rhythms. For the first year, we’ve made considered efforts to winterise the garden, rather than just letting it slide into neglect until Spring. We’ve planted winter jasmine and hellebore, and still taken our morning coffee on the bench – fortified for the cold with a blanket and an extra woolly jumper.
Our lives are marked by the decisions we make. Where and how we fill our time, who we spend it with… the answers will sculpt new possibilities whilst excluding others. Our decisions can change the lives of other people too, perhaps never more so than in our increasingly interconnected world. By the time I’ve dressed and breakfasted, I’ve interacted with continents and communities – through the source of my coffee, the makers of my clothes, the components of my phone… This knowledge can sit heavily; we need to be enabled to make daily decisions aware of – but not paralysed by – the impact they will have.
Over the years, I’ve come up with a system; a series of questions I try to ask myself when making a new purchase. It is an evolving approach, informed by conversations, reading, mistakes. And it minimises the helplessness that can arise when becoming aware of how our globalised world means our pop into the local shop can have far-reaching ramifications.
When my parents set off on their greatest sailing adventure* over ten years ago, our belongings entered a storage unit. This summer they opened that repository, and a couple of weeks ago, my childhood was returned to me. It turns out my childhood fits in seven boxes.
Water is life-giving. It’s consistent – in how it flows, fills the space it enters. But water is also fluid, changeable. Abundant in some places, absent in others. It is easy to be casual with water when it springs readily with the turn of the tap. The emptying reservoir lies unseen.
Water is local. The drops we thriftily save will not, then, be available to people in drought-ridden East Africa. That’s not how water works. But it doesn’t mean we should be wasteful with it. The water from our taps has already been through the energy-intensive treatment process to make it safe for us to drink. It seems a shame, after all that, to pour it all over our unfussy vegetable plots.
Garbed in wellies, I feel a certain sense of invincibility. I can stride out, confident that my feet will step sure and stay dry throughout the day’s adventure. Wellies open up new routes. A treasured memory from recent years is of a low-tide adventure at Emsworth. It’s a place that we normally experience from the water, joining the hoards sailing on Chichester harbour. This time however, the water had receded with the tide and we were armed not with deck shoes but with wellies. Standing in the mud that we normally we sail over was wonderfully surreal; an experience heightened by the setting sun, made possible through the humble welly.
It’s been quieter than I would like around here of late. Other parts of life – work commitments, relationship forging, local exploring – have crowded out the quiet and contemplative moments at the laptop. We’ve been gentle with ourselves during this move – reminding each other that building new patterns, routines and habits takes more time and energy than it sometimes seems it should.
There’s nothing like seeing all your belongings parcelled and packed into a lorry to make you think about your relationship with the things you own. We were paying people to transport these things across counties. I had to ask the question: were they worth it?
It isn’t unusual for our dinner conversation to turn to what a wholly sustainable life looks like. We can find ourselves treading a familiar path of logic: that the only way to avoid harming the natural world and other people is to escape the infrastructure and culture of the modern world; both can be so unkind. A truly sustainable life would be living off our own land, off the grid. Making and growing our own. Total retreat.