Monday, May 17, 2010

Giving It Up

Prodigal son left to drive back home on Sunday morning, while we headed south for (yet, another) dance competition.

It was an interesting week with him here and the nine of us sharing space. MamaDaughter really enjoyed hanging out with her brother, and it was good for Miss Cheevus to meet Uncle Prodigal Son, about whom she has heard so much over the years, but only just saw for the first time since she was a day old. It's always good to have a face to put to the name.

During the week he was here, I was reminded time and again why I chose to force ... er, gently prod my family onto a more sustainable life path, and it got me thinking about some of the posts I have done in the past that I have, since, archived. It seemed like an appropriate time to bring some of them back.

So, from May 2008 here's my post entitled:

Giving It Up

Tonight is the second Wednesday of the month. That means from 7:00 pm until 8:30, I was at the school board meeting typing the minutes.

As it's the end of the school year, the budget for next year has been a main topic for a couple of months now. This year's budgeting process has been complicated by state budget cuts, which amounted to a substantial reduction in subsidies to the school - not just my local school but across the state, everyone is feeling the squeeze.

After several minutes of one person after another getting up to state why he/she felt the Board should keep one position or another, one board member hit the nail pretty squarely on the head when she told those in assembly that she'd like to give everyone everything he's asking for, but there just wasn't enough money.

Then, she stated that she felt half our tax dollars should go to our schools - with which I completely disagree, but that's another matter entirely.

The issue is that everyone wants his piece of the pie. The question is, what are they willing to give up?

It's a lesson I've been trying to teach my children. I give them $5 and then I take them to the biggest candy store in town - Len Libby's, and I say, "You have $5. You can have anything you want that doesn't cost more than $5."

Not the best example, but it's a similar idea. They could make arguments - my children I mean - why they should be allowed to purchase any number of items, but if they only have $5, they only have $5, and they have to make-do with what they have.

The question is, for all of us today, what are you willing to give up?

And that's also a question I've posed for real - for real-life stuff.

What are you willing to give up?

Another blogger thought my question should be modified to "what ARE you giving up?" and certainly that is the ultimate goal of the question - to task us with evaluating those things we need so that ultimately we can part with those we don't need.

And the issue really is need, because it enriches my life in very meaningful ways versus want to keep because it's mine and I paid for it and have the money to continue paying to operate it. What things truly do enrich your life, and what things are just nice to have, because, well, they're nice to have?

But we have to start at square one, right? And before we can even start giving things up, we need to evaluate what our boundaries are. At some point it may all be gone, but for now, for just this moment, maybe we can empower ourselves by CHOOSING what to give up and what to keep, with the understanding that we can't keep it all. Something has to go - like decluttering. We can't keep ALL of our 1960's vintage Barbie Doll collection. Some of it has to go. The question is, which ones? And once that question is answered, the action is to actually part with them. Give.Them.Up.

The question is: What are we willing to give up? Those people at the school board meeting were apparently unwilling to give up much of anything. They wanted it all. They want to go before the Town Council and say, "We want our $10 million, and you can cut somewhere else."

Well, where?

Roads? The town pays to plow the roads during the winter. As of March 1, 2008, my area had received something like 90" of snow. That's about seven and a half feet. Okay, not much compared to some other areas of the country, like Alaska, and that amount comes in increments of six inches to a foot spread out over several months with some melting and freezing happening in between snow storms, but after the first month of real winter, we typically have an average of two feet of accumulation on the ground until spring thaw. It's enough of an accumulation to make driving in anything except a truck with a snowplow attachment or a four-wheel drive impossible. I'm not thinking that most people who want to drive cars during the winter would be willing to give up snowplowing.

And road maintenance? Anyone who wishes to drive at all won't give this one up. Between the frost heaves and the snowplows ripping up the roads, driving in the spring is like running a slalom course from trying to avoid potholes.

What about the sewer? I don't, personally, use the municipal sewer system. I have a private septic system. I pay for town sewer, because that's the way our town's tax system works - everyone pays for everything. I'd be happy, personally, to funnel the money I spend on the town's sewer system into the school, BUT if I lived downtown, I'd certainly have a different opinion. And, frankly, the municipal waste disposal system isn't all that great to begin with. Without regular maintenance and careful monitoring ... well, suffice it to say that our downtown area might be a bit more like Dickinsian London than a 21st Century coastal Maine tourist trap ... I mean resort town.

What about the streetlights, which the town pays to keep lit?

What about the fire department, the police department, the emergency response crew ...? Should we cut those areas?

Oh, I know. We could cut the Public Library to keep the school librarian on staff ... but then, people like me, who homeschool, or the older year-round residents who pay taxes, but don't have children in the school system (and many who never have), won't have access to that wonderful resource for community togetherness.

Or the wonderful new playground they just built downtown? We could always use the one at the school ... except when school's in session.

I don't know where my town might be spending money unwisely, where they could make cuts so that the school department could have the money they are requesting.

I don't know where the school might be engaging in superfluous spending that they could trim.

What I do know, however, is that everyone has his hand out saying, "Gimme, gimme", and at some point, there is not going to be anything left to give.

So, the question remains, what are these people willing to give up?

I don't have children in the school system, and I can't make that decision for other parents. That's the question they need to ask themselves, and maybe, if everyone would be completely honest about the answer, we could all enjoy a little of what we really want to keep, at least for a little while, because as Kunstler points out in his book The Long Emergency
(which I'm reading for GreenBean's May reading challenge), at some point, we're likely going to be giving it all up. It's not a matter of "if" anymore, but when. Now would be a good time to be empowered and make decisions about what to keep, instead of whining about what we can't have.

My children do well at Len Libby's, by the way. They might want the 15 lb chocolate Moose lollipop, but usually choose the priced per pound candies that offer them a much larger and varied selection - a little of this and a little of that. The funny thing is, that when we leave, they're always happy with their choices, and they never lament the thing they saw and didn't choose. I don't know what that says, except that, when given the opportunity to make a choice, even if the choice is a compromise, they always - my children, I mean - seem happy with the outcome.

I'm pretty sure it works that way with most folks.


Two years later, it's still a good question ... what are you willing to give up, and what can you not do without? Answer that question, and your survival in a lower energy world will be a lot easier.


  1. Great Post.

    The truth, as you say, is that most of us are not willing to give up anything. We live in a world that insists we accumulate. We really do have the cart before the horse. What I am willing to let go of has deep spiritual significance. Which is probably why so few people will go there.

    I do not subscribe to the idea that things will "soon be back to normal". Who needs that "Normal" anyway.

    I am in the process of attempting to simplify my life. It is an interesting process and one that is probably easier to judge by someone outside my frame of reference.

    On a more prosaic level we have started "Soup Sunday's" and "Meatless Mondays" And trying to limit our trips to town to one a week, which is proving to be harder to achieve than I first believed..

  2. On a personal level, I guess I'm willing to give up seafood. I live in a state that is, for all intents and purposes, landlocked. I really, really enjoy sushi and certain fish. There is a hardworking couple near me that fishes salmon all summer and brings it back here for sale on a commercial scale. That's currently the only seafood we eat. If I'm honest with myself though, it's not sustainable. I haven't bought any in more than a year, and I could give it up.

    On a wider level, I think we'd be very well served by giving up the penal system we've got. I'm so sick of the criminalization of drug use. If they're not violent or endangering kids with drugs, who cares what they smoke or shoot up? Just think what we'd save by not interdicting, prosecuting or jailing anyone for that "crime." And no, I don't use. I couldn't justify the expense, even if that appealed to me.

    I also think a lot of non-violent criminals shouldn't be jailed at all. Society would be better served if "repaying one's debt to society" happened on a literal level. Why isn't Madoff scrubbing public toilets? White collar criminals could actually benefit society with real service, rather than sitting on their sorry asses, being a perpetual drain on public funds.

    So that's my answer - I'd scrap the penal system we've got and start over with one that makes more sense and costs less money. But I know I'm merely dreaming here.

  3. You know a great post when it's hard to respond to, and causes you to think about it over time. I read your post last night, and you could probably see the smoke from my little brain chugging along on it :)

    My state (CT) proudly passed their budget. BUT, when you look closer - aha! It's "slightly" larger than last year, it budgets (hopes) for federal $$ to come in, and it allows for a loan/bond. Sheesh! We are already in a deficit, so why not cut back now before it gets any bigger? Where should they have cut? I haven’t looked into that but from business accounting experience; you always have “padded” areas for possible cuts.

    What could I give up in my personal life? Tough choice, all involving “if, then” scenarios.

    If I was in a stand-alone house instead of a condo, then I could jump feet first into going without electricity. (Provided I installed a wood burning stove.) I already live without tv, and could get a hand-crank radio for news.

    If I lived closer to my family, then I could sell my car, and give up the 9 to 5 and just earn enough to stay healthy, happy, and productive.

    So, for the time being, I guess I’ll have to keep taking smaller chips out of my footprint :)

  4. Great post!

    On the micro level:

    I don’t watch TV or have cable (I do watch movies). I eat very little in the way of processed foods. I get my books & DVD’s from the library rather than buying them. I don’t drive much. When I first gave these things up, I was giving something up. The further I got from the point of giving them up the more I saw that I was really adding things too my life: cooking good food (fun, a good skill and garners me much praise), riding my bike (healthy, fun, and saves cash), the community of folks at the library (and cash from not buying books), rather than giving something up and going without.

    Your post enforces that I've made what changes I can while living where I do and how I do. I can't really give anything up or make any more changes w/o things starting to fall apart. So... It's time to make the move to what comes next. A move that I've been procrastinating for a bit now. The funny thing is, is that once I do make the leap I know that I’m not so much giving things up as living richly and differently. And yet, I procrastinate. I think there are a lot of folks like me out there.

    On the macro level:

    As people change things and give things up it becomes harder to keep the same old systems going. For example: In Washington State our roads are mostly paid for with gas taxes. We’re still building and rebuilding all sorts of roads, but at the same time people are driving less and driving cars that get better gas mileage. So, we have a system that’s trying to care for an ever expanding road system with an ever contracting tax base. This will have to come to a halt sooner or later. Hopefully it will not be a crashing halt.

    In my community, we’re also struggling with how to pay for for schools. Schools that get a large part of their funding from property taxes. Property taxes that have taken a huge dip as property values have gone done. Still, everyone wants to live as if we still had that funding.

    Me, I’d like to see school sports get zero funding from tax dollars. But, most of our spending on schools has to go on as long as we use the same system. Our transportation costs are huge, but we can’t cut the transportation budget as long as we insist on having large, far flung, schools. And no one wants to give up those schools.