The year after graduation from Whitman College, I joined two AmeriCorps service crews. I spent my summer removing exotic invasive plants from a globally significant wetland in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. Following that, I moved up to the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York and lived in the middle of a 6 million acre preserve (3 times the size of Yellowstone) with 20 other crew members for one year.
Earning $110 stipend per month, many of us embraced living simply and creatively. We relied heavily on our natural surroundings to decorate our homes, flavor foods, and make gifts. Stewed nettles or chicory root, fragrant wild chives, homemade wreaths, books and visual art out of recycled materials, collage knitting and quilting projects from scraps, and mixed burned CD’s were all prominent.
Our entertainment, too, took after the natural world. We witnessed local chainsaw sculpture competitions, cast iron pan throwing contests (across frozen lakes), and life-sized ice block castles. On our own, we built Quanzit huts and organized weekend winter camping trips—things that cost nothing but, when the company was good and the environment inspiring, good times seemed endless.
I believe I finally understood the pervasiveness of my own level of simple living when, on a visit home to Oregon, I asked my family dentist whether it was advisable to reuse dental floss as long as I washed it off between uses. Needless to say, I left his office with a handful of free samples and an empathetic smile following me all the way out the door.
As I embark on this next unknown exactly one month from now, I wonder how frugality and simple living will manifest. Since I generally live more simply and for less than most people my age, I’m not entirely sure how much more I can do. That said, I’ve been able to brainstorm a few things. Interestingly, my choices 9 years ago were governed in equal parts by creativity and frugality. This time around, I see my choices governed first by frugality, and some of my values taking a temporary backseat.
I predict there will be no more organic/all-natural: toothpaste, lotion, shampoo, conditioner, tampons, and detergent in my year of residencies on the road. I also plan to cut goat cheese, fancy dark chocolates, and soy ice cream completely from my shopping lists strictly because of their high costs. I have already converted my monthly bills to online statements to save postage, despite my adamant allegiance to the great United States Postal Service. New clothes? Only if required due to cold or insects. Gifts? I’m taking one “craft box” from which to make any gifts I might want to give in the coming year. Printer ink? I’ll rely primarily on Interlochen’s computer labs and faculty offices. Same thing for photocopies, staples, envelopes, paper, paper clips, and tape. Internet access? Finally, I’ll be able to fully enter the age of wi-fi once I get off the mountain.
The list goes on, but is not all-inclusive. I know that certain organic produce and meats are hard and fast rules in my book, as are anything having to do with the longevity of my car, computer, or feet.