Monday, June 14, 2010


A few months ago I read Ceremony, by Leslie Silko, for my book group. It centers on a Native American boy who fights the Japanese front in WWII and comes back home to his Laguna tribe with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor's guilt. When all other avenues fail, he turns to the ancient ceremonies of his people to heal his mind, and finds that his journey is one that he doesn't take alone: his actions link him both with his people and those he fought during the war.

One of the themes deals with the interconnectedness of everything in the world. This is, of course, a well-documented philosophy among many Native American tribes, but the book took things even a step beyond man's relationship with the land to man's relationship with man. What we do affects our families, our communities, the Earth itself, and by extension, people in every corner of the Earth. I am an environmentalist for precisely this reason, and am happy to be supported by the teachings of the Church.

Our lives as wealthy Westerners are FULL of consumption and waste. How many garbage bags do we throw away each week? Think of how it increases at Christmastime, or whenever we throw a party. The very act of consumption requires waste: 1. we are replacing something that is used/broken which must be discarded, 2. the packaging around our new acquisition must be discarded, and most importantly, 3. production of anything produces massive amounts of waste, and this is a part of the cycle over which we have very, very little control.

Here's a question, and a challenge: We often donate used clothing items to Goodwill, right? Are we also shopping there? My two favorite household items came from a thrift store, as did my coffee maker, bedroom furniture and many of my picture frames. Of course, there are many things you simply can't buy at the Salvation Army store. Underwear, obviously. And sometimes you need an item that isn't available there, like a dress for a wedding or a pair of kahkis or, in my case, Ugg boots to protect my Raynauds-afflicted toes from wintry weather. What matters is that we make the effort to search thrift stores regularly for those things we need, rather than relying on Target, Walmart, Kohls or ToysRUs. Even those discount stores contribute to the overconsumption that is the root of so much waste and materialism.

This is a struggle in our culture. I do not make light of the pressures that assail us from every direction to consume, consume, consume. Our children beg for new toys, while the hundreds that they already own lie strewn about the house. Our parents criticize our wardrobes or hint that we "need" another appliance. Our friends re-do their kitchen and suddenly we notice how cramped our own is. A new season begins, and we are embarrassed to see our growing kids running around in pants that end above their ankles.

I've been struggling for a long time with a call to give up makeup. *gulp* I just don't know if I can do it. I am very sensitive about my looks. I thought maybe I'd give it up for Lent one year and see if that frees me, but then every Lent I decide I should do something else instead, because I am a coward. A vain, insecure, coward. It is a lot easier for me to limit my shower length, shop at thrift stores and re-use plastic bags than to leave the house without doing my face. I am praying about this, and working towards it. If it's truly what God desires for me, I pray He will give me the strength to embrace the challenge...someday. Was it St. Augustine? "Lord make me chaste, but not yet!"

In the meantime, I repeat to myself: Do what you can. When I'm tempted by the King Arthur's Flour catalog and all their beautiful pans, mixes and gadgets, I say, "This I can do." I can resist purchasing a scone pan. Hooray! When I'm tempted to go out for dinner because I'm just tired and don't want to cook, I say, "This I can do." I can cook a meal for my family. Yippee!

It works with kid stuff, too. When I'm confronted for the eightieth time one day by a string looped across the hallway as part of an Indiana Jones game, I say, "This I can do." I can duck under or untie the string to walk past without getting mad at the kids. Huzzah!

Some of you are perhaps farther along on your walk towards simplicity, humility and counter-culturalism. What are your tips for reducing waste, consumption and vanity in this crazy, materialistic society we inhabit?


Allison said...

It might seem petty, compared to what others do (yeah, I wear makeup, but I make sure it is cruelty free) but I am letting myself go gray.

Right now, my summer look is "two-toned;" the top half gray and the lower half this awful brassy red from the dye oxidizing.

But in the end, I know I need to embrace my aging self.

Ann said...

Hi Tienne - good questions! I have pondered the same things myself. I do think sometimes this type of thinking can lead to a type of nervousness, like we need to put so much on our sholders or it won't get done, and can lead to more ego in fact. I think overall what is WRONG with consumption is that it gets in the way of relating to others - not that just using less is good in and of itself. Like if you are spending more time thinking or worrying rather than working on building relationships or in contemplation, etc. I remember hearing Mother Theresa speak on poverty, and she explained it so clearly - you arn't dirt poor because it is 'good' but because you are FREE!!! And make-up isn't bad I don't think - it certainly doesn't have to be a waste. I think if it gives you confidence to not think about yourself, rather than worry about your appearance without make up, it is serving a good purpose. And you look really good in your picture - I would recommend a good scrub - even with a wash cloth or salt or sugar and oil - then maybe an eyeliner, lip gloss and a cover stick for blemishes - for the most simple look. I came here from "Conversion Diary" - so whatever helps you to "Sparkle with self forgetfullness"!!! I enjoy your blog and look forward to more posts!!!! Ann

MemeGRL said...

Oh, do I struggle with consumption. But, isn't it funny how we are all struggling with different things? I have a quart-sized ziplock bag with all the makeup I use, including brushes. It's one of the few areas of my life where I have simplified. I use it only for "special" occasions and think of it as "dressing up" for my face. I miss the look that mascara brings but really, very little else. If this is truly something you feel called to, I hope you find a way to it. And I'll work on my own downsizing demons here! "We donate to Goodwill, but do we shop there?" Touche.

Tienne said...

Allison -- Not petty at all! I think going gray naturally is a big step; my 80 year old grandmother STILL dyes her hair jet black. :)

Ann -- I love the idea of makeup freeing me from thinking about my appearance. "Sparkle with self-forgetfulness" wondrous!

MemeGRL -- Cutting down would definitely be a great first step for me...and would free up some counter space to make the bathroom easier to clean!

Allison said...


I was thinking of you and pondering your question. My concern is you might potentially at some point make an idol of nonconsumption. The Bible tells us LOVE of money is the root of evil - not that money is. God understands we must live in a material world. I sincerely applaud your efforts but hope you don't have that constant feeling you are not doing enough.

Blessings to all.

Anna said...

When I can, I try to get things that come in glass containers instead of plastic. We can recycle some plastic, but I'm pretty sure glass is better in the long run for the environment.

Also, I think I am finding that it works better to buy the higher quality items (shoes and clothes especially) that will last a long time, rather than buying cheaper items that will have to be thrown away sooner.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

I raised my kids with limited toys and great imagination. The problem with all the fancy, expensive toys is that the do all the thinking for the kids. Most have one specific function. Now, a pot and a spoon can be anything that the imagination can dream up. Rather than teaching creativity workshops for managers and employees, perhaps we should start raising them, as children, with pots and pans for their toys.

Laurie said...

I love this post! You're speaking my mind right now. I hear about purchasing organic, purchasing locally, even purchasing second-hand... but far too often no one mentions NOT purchasing.

I haven't worn make-up in about five years. If I took the time to survey those who look at me I might flinch... but those who spend the most time looking at me are those who's gaze doesn't stop at my skin, and they apparently don't mind my low-maintenance look. I was just convicted with the reality that I only have so many hours, so many dollars, and so many brain cells in this life - why use them up on make-up and hair? Putting my energies towards my looks was not empowering or enjoyable but was a constant discouragement of not being able to get it "right" (for my own standards or in order to take on the acceptable fashions).

Overall, I try to frame all my resource decisions like this: I have $20 - would it be put to best use getting a professional haircut or is there something else I can do with the $20 while cutting my own hair for free? I don't color my hair because it is an on-going investment that I don't want to make (and I've had gray since I was 20... noticeable gray since about 26 - when people comment I tell them God is my colorist... because He has given me some lovely streaks).

Anyway, large and small, for me or my household - I try to keep asking that question about whether something is an excellent use of my time/money/energy resources. So far there is nothing that I've left behind that I miss. Each time I struggle with the idea of giving something up I later wish I had done it sooner. It truly is enjoyable to travel through this life with less luggage.

alisha said...

I there, I've been popping by for a little while now. One thing I've been thinking about in the pursuit of the simple life is to be a flexitarian. This means that, in the eating department, I eating a mostly veggie diet but don't feel bad for having a hamburger ever once in a while. I apply this philosophy to lots of other aspects of life that just aren't yet realistic to convert completely to one way of living, no matter how noble. Like eating organic and buying used rather than new.

About make-up, I've given up various cosmetics (hair color, self-tanner, etc.) for periods of time but at the end of the day it always comes back to the fact that I like how I look better with a bit of make-up, and I don't think that's bad. I think it comes down to your personal choice and if you don't want to wear it don't, but don't not wear it because you think it's somehow "better" not too. Beauty can be a part of a simple life too. :)