Selling off our excess and so getting rid of a monthly bill for storage rental represents another step in our downsizing. This is a process that started with the sale of our "McMansion" several years ago. That house was the height of our accumulation of things as measured by sheer square footage and the stuff we filled it with. When we moved from there, we filled that house's big great-room with boxes of possessions. Probably a third of it went to storage and we fit the rest as best we could into the small apartment we were moving to. Our next move beyond that, was a rental house and we reclaimed what was in storage, selling some of it in a significant reduction of stuff. Now we've moved into a house that we've bought. It's smaller than the rental, though better laid out and better constructed. The house is comfortable and works for us. Emptying our storage again is our fitting into it. I see it as a picture of what contraction is--moving from a complex to a simpler mode of living. "Right sizing" is an appropriate term for it--finding that niche of sustainable living within our constraints.
I saw in our garage sale a picture of our personal contraction as the idea of "opting out" that I had run across in articles and podcasts in the preceding weeks. I was especially struck by the comments of the economics blogger, Charles Hugh Smith, when he was interviewed by James Kunstler. Kunstler asked Smith why he thought the American population was so unconcerned, or passive, in the face of economic, political, and social collapse that puts people in the streets elsewhere. Mr. Smith said he didn't think Americans were unconcerned, they just haven't reached the point of being willing to face violence to protest their oppression. Instead, they're resisting more passively by "opting out."
Mr. Smith's comments really struck a chord with me. In-your-face occupations and civil disobedience have their time and place, but nonviolent mass action (or inaction) is ultimately more effective because it is the thing our rulers can't handle. They would prefer open opposition because they know how to use force to crush that (as in the dead-of-night driving of the Occupy Movement from their places of occupation across the country). They don't know how to handle millions of people who simply refuse to buy into the system of endless consumerism that enriches the elites, exploits everyone else, and destroys the earth. At least that's the idea and there is evidence that it's gathering some traction.
Cooperative models for conducting business are popping up here and there. These are the worked-owned companies such as "New Era Windows" that grew out of the workers occupation of the "Republic Windows and Doors" factory after being laid off with just three days’ notice. And young people are learning sustenance farming in the northeast out of a desire to take life into their own hands when their college degrees fail to earn them a decent livelihood. It may be that more and more people are finding even subtler ways of finding alternatives to the corporate, fossil-fuel driven mode of life.
So what's involved in opting out? It's as much an attitude as specific things you do. Here's a couple of plans I've condensed from the writings of some commentators I've come across. The first is from Steve Ludlum of the Economic Undertow website. Steve suggests:
* Get Simple. Avoid interconnected complexities--"Becoming independent from- or less dependent upon
interconnected engineered systems is a way to avoid others’ costs" (which I take to mean McMansions in gated communities, Wal-Mart, smart-anythings).
*Get Small. ("Ditch the growth idea starting at home. Size = vulnerability, giant size = collapse.")
* Get Free. Pay off your debt and don't incur more. (The system makes this difficult, but reduce debt as much as you can).
* Get close to food. (Grow your own, buy from farmer's markets, etc).
* Get Real. Strive for a life unmitigated. Disconnect from iPhones, Blackberries, cableTV, etc.
* Get rid of the car. (Or go to one, small, economical one. If you can live without a car, you are blessed).
* Learn a skill or trade. (Support yourself and aide your community now and later).
* Find a comfortable place to live. (A place that suits you, where you can be part of a community).
I found the next list on The Automatic Earth website. Nicole Foss (also interviewed by Mr. Kunstler) contributed to this one:
* Hold no debt.
* Hold cash and equivalents.
* Dont trust banks.
* Sell off real estate, bonds, commodities, collectables.
* Gain control over the necessities of your own existence. (That's the goal, but you'd probably have to become a hunter-gather to really achieve it).
* Work with others.
* Try to stay employed.
* Look after your health.
These lists are probably a good overview of the current thinking on opting out. Some of it is self-evident. Some of it is luck (climate change will make agriculture difficult or impossible in some places). But it's a place to start so you can at least be aware of the personal contraction that will eventually be forced on all of us. I believe this is a hard reality we are facing, but it need not be all gloom.
Among the items we sold at the garage sale were three guitars, a keyboard, and an electric piano, all left over from our sons' childhood musical training. A family from a rural area that did musical performances in churches took great interest in the guitars. A lady who played church piano was just as interested in the keyboard. As they all checked out the instruments they struck up a jam session of church music that brought other shoppers and us together in a moment of appreciative goodwill. It was a picture of "regular" people caught in the day's economic maelstrom--we needed to have a garage sale and they needed to buy from a garage sale.
For a short while, we forgot about buying-and-selling and just enjoyed a little music.
* * *
James Kunstler's interview with Charles Hugh Smith is here.
James Kunstler's interview with Steve Ludlum is here.
James Kunstler's interview with Nicole Foss is here.