Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Buy Nothing Day!

In honor of Buy Nothing Day, here are a few videos and links:

An advertisement for Buy Nothing Day from last year:

A quick trailer of Kids + Money:

"kids + money" by Lauren Greenfield (trailer) from INSTITUTE on Vimeo.

An extended preview of Kids + Money. I've got the whole thing if anyone would like to borrow it:

Rev. Billy Talen on Buy Nothing Day:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

gift season part 1 - where to buy.

   It's been a solid two months since I've posted. I knew working and schooling full time would be a tricky endeavor, but I may have underestimated just how much of a time suck it would become. When I'm not at work it's pretty much a guarantee that I'm at school, clinical, or doing homework. So, clearly my crafting has taken a backseat. I have plenty o' homework to be doing right now but I really wanted to post something about holiday gift giving before the arrival of black Friday.

   A couple weeks ago I was talking with some friends over dinner and one of them expressed his concern about making all his own gifts for Christmas. Basically, he really wants to give gifts, doesn't want to get things from the mall, but feels uncomfortable making his own because he might not have the time, creativity, or skill set. Myself and others told him about some alternatives that he just had no idea about it and it struck me that maybe others would like to know about these options as well.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Messenger Bag, Take 2.

  Sorry to the few friends who read this for taking so long to post! It's been a busy few weeks - full time school and full time work have made my schedule tight! In any event, I thought I'd write a quick note on back to school supplies.
  A little bit ago I posted about a laptop bag I'd attempted to make. It turned out well but I wasn't a huge fan of the way it looked. It was a little too matchy-matchy for me. So I attempted a "new" bag, made out of cargo pants and some bizzaro space alien fabric I had on hand. Without making this an instructional post, I basically cut apart some cargo pants and sewed them so that I created a tube with a flap and lined the tube with the alien fabric. Then, I created a strap out of the top of some jeans. There's got to be an official, sewing name for the top of pants. Sadly, my knowledge of fancy sewing terms is limited to "placket". Regardless, it's the bit at the top where the buttons and belt loops are. It's really thick, reinforced material so I thought it would make a good strap. The bag is completed except for this one component that I'm having trouble finding - it's a metal piece that would make the straps adjustable. I have only had a chance to check one store, but if I don't find it, I'll settle on using some D rings I have kicking around. Here are a couple pics of the bag in various stages:

   This bag got me thinking a little bit about why exactly it was that I disliked the original messenger bag I'd made. I realized that I like for things to look homemade. I like the recycled/repurposed aesthetic. In the same way that I do not enjoy walking into Target or the mall and seeing 500 things that look the same, I don't like looking at my own work and thinking it looks like I could have bought it in the store. The vast majority of the time, this isn't a problem. I am horrible at sewing. I'm lazy with crafts. I am idea and not skill driven when it comes to making things and it shows in my end products. So this aesthetic problem isn't one I grapple with very often. I have to wonder - is this some sort of backwards elitism? Do I want to prove to myself and others that I'm not wearing something that came from a store? It could be, I wouldn't put it past me. I think I do genuinely like more thrown together looking items. Made with love but not necessarily with the latest issue of Vogue in mind. I'm sure that like most things, the answer is somewhere in the middle. I am both being an elitist about craftivism and also honestly enjoy a certain type of style. I do think it warrants more reflection. I'm sure there's a sort of elitist component to my thinking/feeling on this and if that's indeed the case, I am compelled to root it out. I find elitism in myself, and the mental baggage that comes with it, far more distasteful than overpriced clothing articles. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Money Spent.

     Unfortunately, I feel this post may be a bit boring. It mostly has to do with what I've spent money on lately so if you're not into that sort of thing, I'd skip this. Ok, preface out of the way...
    The past two weeks my bank account has seen a lot of action. All the money I've thrown around lately has seemed both oddly necessary and profusely irritating.
     To begin with, I am starting the clinical portion of a nursing program this fall. Nevermind that this will be my second bachelor's degree (and the first was a double major), and that I also have a Master's degree. Let me put aside the enormity of money borrowed in my somewhat academically redundant “career” and whine here about the cost of books. This, I know, is a very tired complaint but holy canoli batman I have never spent this much on books before. Not to mention the other gear needed for nursing – stethoscope, scissors, etc. Typically, I beg, borrow, and stalk online book sellers for school books but for various reasons, these options were not available to me this semester so I am out a month and half's worth of rent. 
    The other major-ish purchase I've made recently was for a work related event. I work as a sociotherapist for Hillside Children's Center and this week I was assigned to be a staff member at some amusement park events. In order to hang out with the kids in the water park I needed a one piece bathing suit, which I didn't own. No one in my immediate vicinity seemed to have one so I purchased one from Dick's. This was after going to Target only to discover that they weren't selling one-pieces. While at Target I also picked up a new sports bra. I run a lot and consider this an essential part of my wardrobe. Wanting to avoid purchasing from a company that may or may not be using shady business practices, I grabbed a bra made by Champion. I felt fine about this because I knew that Champion products are made in the US and even better, close to Rochester. Nope! Wrong on both counts, I discovered while cutting tags at home. The Champion factory I was thinking of shut down ages ago and my new article was made in the Dominican Republic. Ok, it may not be a sweatshop situation in the DR – but it's definitely not local. This, combined with my arduously long process of trying and subsequently failing to find a bathing suit that was first made in America and secondly, if possible, affordable, left me wanting to spend some serious time searching around online to try to find places to buy both items in the future. I say wanting because I'm working a crazy amount currently (to pay for the above mentioned books) and haven't had much time to myself. I found some websites that list companies that are all American made but I'm not going to put up their web addresses until I'm sure they're not promoting distasteful things like vague xenophobia.
     I'm not sure to what extent I could have avoided these shopping pitfalls. If I had known farther in advance about the work trip I probably could have borrowed a bathing suit. I definitely could have avoided the sports bra issue if I had done some more research before buying it. While I really did think it was made somewhat locally, it was still a bit of an impulse buy – something I try to avoid.  
    The other small bit of reflection I was taking away from these purchases had to do with the shopping experience itself. I felt really uncomfortable being in Target. And because my brain is the victim of two double shifts and an overnight I will list these irritants without much eloquence or explanation: the lighting was bothersome, the popcorn smell made me want to buy their popcorn, I was surrounded by cute disposable clothing that I had trouble not wanting to buy, the selections are overwhelming, and their prices are cheap. I realize now that besides the lighting, my list has to do with my own annoyance at myself for wanting to buy all this "hot bright trash". But I don't know that my annoyance with myself is really worthwhile. I like fashion as it relates to art (whatever that means) and Target tries to make clothes that are fashionable. I don't like looking like everyone else, buying things I don't need, or purchasing from companies that make products in ethically dubious ways. So I can like the way some clothes look and not buy them. But I think when I'm actually in the situation - when I'm standing in that clothing bonanza in Target - the decision not to buy can feel hard. And I guess that's a little disappointing to me. I would love for it to always be easy. I intellectually want to not want overly salted popcorn strategically placed by an entryway and mass produced in Thailand cotton tees that will be ill fitting within a month. But I do sometimes and really, I think that's ok. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Things Made...

I realized this morning that I've been posting far more about shopping/consumerism dilemmas than I have about stuff I'm making. In an effort to remedy that, here are a few pics of stuff I've made in the last two weeks.

Just a plain white tea that I stenciled on.

More button earrings and a weird sculptural string barrette. It looks a lot better on than it does in the pic. 

I needed a messenger bag for my laptop. This was made entirely of scrap fabrics. A year ago-ish, I made a mei tai baby carrier for a co-worker (example) and had a fair bit of leftover fabric. There's tons of super convenient pockets and it's lined with a cute green print. Unfortunately, I really don't like this bag. It's just not my style. Luckily my roommate (who happens to have a sweet blog) likes it, so it's hers now! I'm planning on making a new one sometime before school starts from old cargo pants. 

I'm experimenting with making up my own cheap-o frames that can be taped to the wall because the new house has some very unmanageable plaster making it really difficult to hang pictures with actual frames. I actually like how these turned out but I may try something else next. 

Finally, a pic of the current design on the chalkboard wall in our rec room. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The problem with compliments.

   In my last post I wrote about my conflicting thoughts and feelings regarding purchase parties, as I've been calling them - those parties in which you are invited to someone's home and then they sell you something, jewelry, makeup, etc. This past week, my house-mate and I had maybe the opposite sort of party, a swap night. Swap nights, just as the name implies, are get togethers in which the guests all bring items that they feel may be useful to others but are no longer useful to them. Often, it's a clothing swap. Our guests were invited to bring anything they'd like. I didn't have a lot of clothing to swap so most of what I had to offer were a plethora of dishtowels and some other kitchen odds and ends. Perhaps I shouldn't call this sort of party the "opposite" of the purchase parties since I'm still going to them or hosting them with the intent to receive items. In any event, it went well. I had a lot of fun and to my surprise people actually wanted my dishtowels. The few friends that came were generous enough to bring a lot of food and after we were done digging through each other's cast offs we settled in to some great snacks and some fun discussions regarding small scale revolutions.
  The only hitch in the evening, and I'm not really sure hitch is the right word here, was due to an exchange I had with my mom who stopped by near the end of the get together. She pulled out a small box that I recognized as being from the previous week's jewelry party and gave it to me. When I asked her what it was she told me she got me one of the necklaces that I liked from the catalog at the party. I opened it and sure enough, I did remember pointing it out. It was really nice of my mom to get me this necklace. She loves me and knows I love jewelry and that I don't have a lot of disposable income - so from her perspective this was a sweet gift. There are a lot of reasons that I don't want products from parties like the one I mentioned in the last post - I don't know where the materials came from, if they were produced ethically, and I'd rather support local artists, to name a few. Yet, I ended up with one of these necklaces because 1) I wasn't clear with my mom or others about my thoughts and 2) I expressed some sort of desire for something that I didn't really want.
   This gift reminded me of a conversation I had a couple months ago. I was teaching a program on DIY culture and crafting at a camp and I shared with the campers that I often have reservations about complimenting people on things such as new shoes, clothes, and bags. I feel weird about these compliments for a couple reasons. Often, these compliments are reflexive for me - I will have noticed something new and automatically spit out my approval. It has occurred to me that the compliment often has more to do with the newness of the item rather than some sort of aesthetic value. If I've seen one new pair of brightly colored Nike's, I've seen them all so why say, "Oh! I like your new shoes"? Anytime I am speaking without intention I think it is a good opportunity for me to pause and figure out why. Beyond the verbal reflex problem though, is the fact that I really don't like those new items 95% of the time. I know many of the products I'm complimenting are manufactured in ways that I find unethical and would rather not support. But when I compliment them, I support them - it's just with my words and not my money. And in the case of the necklace, I ended up supporting the company selling it through both my words and my mom's money.
   So, here's where I'm landing on this for now: I will be working on being more intentional with my words (an ongoing and long process) and I will compliment things that I really do find beautiful, both because of there aesthetic value and because they came to my eyes through good ethical processes.

Friday, July 30, 2010


  The past several years I have been invited to an increasingly large number of parties in which the host or hostess's main intention is to sell me something. Typically, I turn down these invites. The parties are almost always for items that I neither need nor want, but occasionally I find myself attending one of these events for a variety of reasons. This was the case this past Wednesday and I wanted to spend a little time reflecting on what these parties mean to me.

  One of the first things that stands out to me about these parties is the intense feeling of obligation to buy that they seem to illicit in their attendees. Well, maybe I ought to just speak for myself here - if I'm not checking in with myself while at one of these shindigs then it is pretty easy for me to feel obligated to purchase something. I think this feeling comes from a few different factors. To begin with, they're always at a relative or close friend's house where they are not only being kind enough to open their doors to me, but also, usually, providing food and beverages. This sets up in myself a desire to "return the favor" as it were, by buying whatever it is they're selling. (**Sidenote** - this reminds me of a book I read for an anthropology class called The Poison in the Gift.) I think I also feel obligated to buy because while I'm in the person's living room, surrounded by fancy products, friendly faces, good food, etc. I get a general feeling of warmth and camaraderie. I feel the bonding of the group and then I want to be a part of that group - and it seems like to be a part of this group, I need to buy something, because after all, that's what we're all there for. So to not buy at one of these parties means fighting both the completely normal culturally driven desire to return hospitality and the urge to join in a group.  From my perspective that's some tough cultural baggage to put aside.

   Ultimately, I don't have a big problem saying "no" to buying at these parties. Often I've prefaced my attendance by letting the host(ess) know that I won't be spending any money. This past week I also had an opportunity to check in with myself aloud because the hostess invited us to ask any questions we had about the product - in this case jewelry. I asked where it was made and she answered that most of it was made in China and Thailand. That was a good way for me to remind myself about why I don't want to be buying items from these parties. This coming weekend there is a craft show on a nearby street and if I'm going to buy jewelry I'd like it to be from a local artisan who I can actually interact with (link).

   I wonder what value or purpose these parties hold for me really? Should I keep attending them? This week I went because I like to see all the people that were going to be in attendance and I didn't want to seem unfriendly or dismissive of the hostess. But is this enough of a reason? I'm not sure. As I'm writing, I'm leaning towards no.  I still feel like I'm somehow supporting these businesses by going to the parties. I'm supporting them with my presence. It's like I'm saying, "well, I'd buy something if I could, but I'm broke". I am broke, but that's not why I'm not buying.  I think maybe a better option in the future might be to explain thoughtfully to the host why I won't be attending and then make a bigger effort to host events that involve the same people and are not focused on buying/selling.

Also, and maybe finally, I think part of the reason my friends and family want to host these events is because a lot of us really are lacking reasons to gather. So much of our society is focused on shopping in one way or another that it can seem like the only valid reason to spend time together is if it has to do with spending money. But there are so many things to do besides going to the mall or a movie or exchanging currency. Maybe it's time for me to make a bigger effort with my loved ones to spend time engaging with them in things that I find valuable. I'd hate for them to feel like we need to spend money in order to spend time.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Painting and Accessorizing

  The past week or so I've done my fair share of both buying and making. Most of what I bought was to be used for the making of something else. Having just moved into a house, I've purchased a few things focused on home improvement, primarily painting supplies. I decided I wanted to have one wall in one of the rooms covered in chalkboard paint.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

travel mugs and craft books

  To begin with, I have spent A LOT of money the last few days. Most of this has gone towards moving costs though, so I’m not going to spend much time on that here. The biggest expenses were renting a moving truck and hiring movers (because despite my sizeable guns, I just cannot manage my ridiculous wooden furniture). Beyond that, my only superfluous purchases involved pizza and vodka for myself, Jason, and Amanda after a long day of packing. Both were purchased at local shops at least.

  Prior to leaving for Baltimore I did have a shopping purchase that I’d like to reflect on here. The first was a reusable cup. On my way to an orientation for a new job, I realized I was really thirsty and forgot to bring a water bottle. I stopped at Wegmans and spent about ten minutes trying to decide whether or not to buy a bottle of water or buy a cup to put water in. In the end, I decided purchasing the cup would be better. As it is, I now I have one travel mug, one Nalgene water bottle and one reusable cup. I’m going to try to keep it that way. Buying that cup did make me think a little bit about how even purchasing what is intended to be reusable and sustainable items becomes, well, not that. I have a lot of friends with loads and loads of Nalgene bottles. Or close ones with 10 travel mugs. We, myself included, feel really justified with these purchases because the items are reusable. But why am I buying something if I already have it? Because it looks cool? Because I want to buy something? Because I’m too lazy to wash out the other five travel mugs sitting in my car? At some point, I have been guilty of all these excuses and probably more. At the end of the day, I still bought another reusable item that’s real cute, but I don’t need. I am happy that I reflected a bit on it before the purchase was made, but pretty soon I will need to bridge the gap from reflection to (in)action and not buy stuff on a whim. The bottom line is that I will always have a justification for not buying something – or for that matter, I will always have a justification for not acting in accordance with how I want to be.

  Today, I am happy and pained to say, I did not buy something that I really really wanted to buy. On our way home from returning the Penske truck I’d been driving, Jason wanted to stop at Barnes and Noble for some dvd’s he’d had his eye on. Anyway, as per usual, I gravitated towards the craft/sewing section of the store and was drooling over a crochet book. I just recently learned to crochet and really wanted to buy this book as it had a lot of cool patterns, ideas etc. But here’s the deal – part of what was really fun about learning to hook was that a really awesome person taught me. He was great at explaining what to do, was really excited that I wanted to learn, and then (I think) felt sort of accomplished and proud of himself for teaching someone else a great skill. I don’t have access to that person now, as he lives sort of far, but I do have access to both my mom and step-mom who both crochet and would LOVE to spend the time teaching me how to make whatever my crazy brain comes up with. It’s an opportunity to engage and bond with other really cool people rather than dole out some more cash to an author I don’t know. So, I didn’t buy the book. And, oddly/awesomely, when I got home I went to see Bonnie (step-mom) and she had crocheted some examples of granny-squares for me because she knew I wanted to learn how to make them.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

starting off

    To put it simply - I would like to shop less and create more. I'm making this blog to help me along this path because:
a) I think making a blog will help to hold me accountable to my goals if both strangers and those closest to me are following my process.
b) I'm interested in sharing ideas with others and this seems like a great format with which to do so. 

   In general, what I'm going to try to do is shop as little as possible for items that are not necessary for survival. I already follow this rule to some extent, but I guess I'd like to get just a little bit more hard core about it. When I do need to shop, I'd like to follow some guidelines:
1. Shop Locally/Avoid Malls - I'm not going to launch into any long tirades about big box stores or the death of the American Main Street. But I do believe that working on the community level is the best way to affect positive change. Also, mall shopping depresses me and dries out my eyes, bleh!
2. Honesty - Maybe this point ought to come first. I'd like to be as open and honest about this process as possible. No matter how embarrassing or ill conceived my shopping (mis)adventures may be, I'd like to be truthful about them. I really would like to learn from this process and I cannot expect any possible readers of this blog to contribute to my journey if I'm not giving you the whole story.
3. Question - If I do feel I need to buy something that's typically not necessary for survival I am going to try to spend some amount of time honestly reflecting on why I am buying the item and whether or not I would be able to make it myself.

  That's it for the lists (for now). I'm off to clean up my room and make some things out of garbage. I killed the buffalo, it's time I use it.