Lifestyle Bits

compiled by Mary Romano, Lifestyle Education Committee


Affluenza: Consumption Out of Control - and What You Can Do About It.
Reprinted with permission from Coop America Website Edited by Mary Romano, Chapter Communication Manager

Americans make up less than 5% of the world's population but use nearly a third of the earth's resources and produce almost half its hazardous waste. Each year our garbage could fill a freight train extending half way to the moon, and still the American Dream is "shop, grow, expand and shop some more." Constant exposure to advertising has fueled ever-rising expectations and perpetual disappointment. Statistics prove that more stuff doesn't equal more happiness. In fact, during the last 20 years, as our per capita consumption has risen 45%, our quality of life (as measured by the Index of Social Health) gone down 52%.

In September PBS premiered "Affluenza," a video that explores the epidemic of shopping, overwork, stress and debt that is infecting Americans in record numbers. The third co-production of the award-winning team of John de Graaf and Vivia Boe, of KCTS/Seattle and Oregon Public Broadcasting, "Affluenza" uses personal stories, expert commentary, hilarious old film clips, dramatized vignettes and "uncommercial" breaks to entertain while it illuminates a serious social illness. I have previewed this video and recommend it highly (now available at the chapter office, see below).

What is Affluenza?

Af-flu-en-za n. 1. An epidemic of stress, overwork, shopping and debt caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream; 2. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from one's efforts to keep up with the Joneses; 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth; 4. A film that could change your life.

The symptoms of affluenza affect us all and, left unchecked, can tear apart relationships and families, destroy our environment and warp our ideas about what is important. A whopping 70% of Americans visit malls each week--more than attend churches or synagogues. On average we shop six hours a week and spend only 40 minutes playing with our children. In 90% of divorce cases, arguments about money played a major role. "Affluenza" tells us how things have gotten so out of hand and what we can do about it.

Additional information can be accessed on the "Affluenza" Web site www.pbs.org. or Coop America (800) 58-GREEN. The videos may be ordered through Bullfrog Films, (800)-543-3764. A copy of the "Affluenza" video is available for loan to Sierra Club members or for viewing at Club meetings. Call the chapter office, (303) 861-8819.

What You Can Do:
1. Before you buy anything, ask yourself:

Do I need it or can I just as well live without it?
Do I want to dust/dry clean or otherwise maintain it?
Could I borrow it from a friend, neighbor or family member?
Is there anything I already own that I could substitute for it? <bullet> Are the resources that went into it renewable or nonrenewable?
How many hours will I have to work to pay for it? (Note: Before you do this, you may find it useful to figure your real hourly wage. Take your annual net income and subtract your work-related costs, such as clothing, transportation, child care, parking and lunches out.)

2. Avoid the mall. Go hiking or play ball with the kids instead.

3. Figure out what public transportation can save you (time, money for gas and parking, peace of mind).

4. Become an advertising critic. Don't be sucked in by efforts to make you feel inadequate so you'll buy more stuff you don't need.

5. Volunteer for a school or community group.

6. Splurge consciously. A few luxuries can be delightful, and they don't have to be expensive.

7. Stay in: Have a potluck, play a game, bake bread, write a letter, make love.

8. Make a budget: Know how much you are earning and spending. Each dollar represents precious time in your life that you worked. Are you spending money in ways that are really fulfilling?

9. Pretend the Joneses are the thriftiest, least wasteful people on the block. Then try to keep up with them.

10. For even more ideas, see "Affluenza."


Voluntary Simplicity Equals Quality of Life
By Mary Romano

Join us in a collective statement against hungry corporate advertising hype November 29 for "Buy Nothing Day." Of course you can try it any time. Simply buy nothing for a change. See how refreshing it feels? Really, there are plenty of ways we can enjoy life without getting more things.

Duane Elgin's book "Voluntary Simplicity - Toward a way of Life That is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich," was first published in 1981. It's a good read and it's now a growing trend. More people are recognizing the empty feeling inside when they try to "feel good" by "getting stuff." Families are recognizing that they spend so little time together and that there is a better, more sane way to live their lives. Go for quality of life, rather than quantity of stuff.

The Lifestyle/Education Committee will be hosting a weekly discussion group on the topic of voluntary simplicity for nine weeks, 90 minutes each. We will be joined by the Colorado Institute for a Sustainable Future, who will help facilitate. Topics include: Living More with Less, Your Money or Your Life, Do You Have the Time?, How Much Is Enough?, and the Practice of Simplicity. There is no cost, other than minimal costs for reading materials, compiled by the Northwest Earth Institute. Dates and time will be determined. If you are interested in joining this discussion group, please call Mary Romano at (303) 861-8819.


Did You Know? The gross domestic product (GDP) is going up, but it includes all the money we (U.S.) spend on cancer patients, superfund cleanup, prisons--all the nasty, detrimental things that harm our health and our environment. Instead some people are suggesting we measure our economic success with some sort of GPI or Genuine Progress Indicator. If you take all those "negative" costs to society out of the GDP, our GPI has been dropping since 1973. In a nutshell, that means our quality of life is lower, even though we appear prosperous.


Winterize Your Home
by Jan Oen, Lifestyle/Education Chair

To be environmentally sound as well as economically minded, take a few minutes now to winterize your home. First change the furnace filter. Next weatherstrip doors and windows, caulk any openings and install storm windows or put plastic sheeting over the window openings. You may also want to install decorative insulated window coverings because most heat lost from a home passes through the windows.

Before a major frost, shut off all outside water taps that could freeze and break. This is a place where an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.

Whether you have an automatic thermostat or a manual system, be conscientious about lowering it lower at night and when no one is home. It is also sensible to wear warmer clothes inside when the temperature is colder outside. Rather than turning your thermostat up, put on an extra sweater (or even long johns and down booties) instead.


Putting Your Garden to Bed for the Winter
by Jan Oen, Lifestyle/Education Chair

One of the first rules of thumb for healthy organic gardens is to maintain a clean garden. A sanitary garden is less likely to attract offensive bugs. Fall clean-up will prevent over-wintering of these pests and ongoing damage.

First harvest any remaining vegetables and fruits (historically know as gleaning). Pull up any decaying vegetation. Discard diseased or infested plant matter and compost the remainder, cutting it into smaller pieces for faster composting. Turn the soil and add compost. Mulch the garden with dry leaves, hosing it down with water to prevent the leaves from blowing away, or throw shovelfuls of dirt over the leaves to keep them in place.

Clean up perennial beds by trimming any broken branches, but do not cut them back to ground level until spring. This will maintain winter interest; nothing is prettier than a frosty morning with the sun sparkling in dimensional relief. Perennials should be mulched with leaves if they are not already mulched.

Now you can sit back and enjoy reading gardening magazines and planning next years garden.