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My Year of Buying Nothing

That time of the rites of spring and the wrongs of choice

By Lee Simpson

An early spring has made me — like a forced bulb — slightly dishevelled but determined to blossom in the light of publicity. This blog caught the media’s attention recently. I have spoken my piece (and yours as online readers have chimed in) on radio, in print and on TV. Most interviews went well although several were challenging. Interviewers come with all varieties of ideology: some just don’t like the church or any sniff of religion. But I anticipated this having had a career in publishing. And I wasn’t surprised to be challenged by the question, “isn’t it true that you are just trying to guilt people into change?”

Forget how I answered at the time. The simple truth is that routine guilt — or that niggling feeling that you should be doing more — is the weird, enabling sidekick to much change in life. I recall a jest that career-minded moms of my generation shared. We ruefully admitted that by a week’s end, we had consumed full helpings of the recommended daily dosages of guilt: children, partner, job, God, dog, parents, friends — and, yes, self. But we did it. And for better or worse, as a generation, we invented working moms, God help us all (and God does).

Doing right by our wounded world is equally fraught with compromise. Take those simplest day-to-day queries. Is it better to wash dishes in the sink or the dishwasher? You would be impressed by the time amassed by environmental scientists discussing this. (I think dishwasher wins as of this writing.) What about idling your vehicle’s engine versus turning it on and off? That debate has only recently been settled, and the winner is . . . “ignition off.”

Without buying anything, I face some tough questions as I negotiate garden preparation. I acquired seeds through gifting and trading.  Broad beans and summer squash beckon from cute homemade packets. Thanks to a stranger’s advice, I learned how to take seeds from organic store-bought tomatoes. Whether they remain ‘true’ is questionable, but isn’t it always? I’m also harvesting seaweed, not kelp, as that would be poaching: kelp is a commercial crop here in Nova Scotia. This augments my homemade compost.  

Now how to nourish those plants? I have newspapers and that wooden pot-making gadget for the final stage. I own clever, plastic lidded seedling trays — remainders of a less enlightened time. I can justify their use: trashing them is ecologically foolhardy. But would I encourage others to purchase these admittedly efficient aids? No way! The peat pot alternative is more environmentally friendly, though I have heard peat bogs are imperilled.

And so it goes, the eternal, internal debate. Am I trying to nudge others in the right direction of anti-consumption, pro-eco-friendly habits? You bet I am, and guilt is my colleague in this venture — only  mine, not yours. So find a sustainable source for your own guilt; my crop is flourishing!

Author's photo
Rev. Lee Simpson is a writer in Lunenburg, N.S. New posts of YBN will appear every other Friday. You can also check out a short documentary about Lee at http://www.ucobserver.org/video/2014/04/ybn/.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

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