the path to escape: renouncing

It had been brewing for a long time, maybe even years.  Though it may seem like it happened overnight, like it—it being your life and how you live it—must have just always been this way, particularly to people who’ve met you after The Change.  But it wasn’t.  Not a bit.

I’ve talked a little, here and there, about how my life used to be pre-Wagenplatz and post 9-5 job.  I’ve talked about how I used to wear make-up and shower obsessively.  Hell, there was a time in my life when I loved air conditioning and concrete and considered shopping a pasttime.  Though I barely recognize that person in myself anymore, being that person was an important part of getting to the person I am today.  Some people talk like change is negative.  “You’ve changed,” they’ll say.  And their tone will imply that you’ve become something much worse.  But more often than not, changes are good for the people involved.  Even if they aren’t always good for other members of those past lives.

I have wanted to share more of how that transition happened for a while now.  But yesterday’s quote from Shannon Hayes’ book Radical Homemakers inspired me to tell the story now, in context of the stages she identifies as leading people into radical homemaking.  Let me repeat the part of the quote that I will talk about today, the first step in her three-step ladder, here for you now:

RENOUNCING: In this first stage, the Radical Homemaker is increasingly aware of the illusory happiness of a consumer society.  They recognize and question the pressures and compulsion to purchase goods and services that they begin to feel they could provide for themselves “if only…”  This stage is marked by growing introspection, doubting the ultimate worth of their careers, identifying their true sources of contentment, and seeking better alignment of their pesonal values with their life’s trajectory.

For this Gorilla, it started with books.  Most things do with me.  These books were about anarchism.  During my senior year of college, a year that left me feeling utterly broken and in need of a long break from all things academic, I read The Disposessed by Ursula Le Guin, as well as The Alexander Berkman Reader.  Though I can’t remember if that was the year that I read the anonymously authored CrimethInc book Eviction, I do remember it being the year when I dumpster-dived food for the first time.  We were so up to our ears in Panera bread that year that we used to have baguette swordfights in the kitchen.  Too bad I hadn’t seen this back then, though (for the non-German speakers, it’s a list of 130 recipes for turning old bread into something tasty).  It felt like the beginning of my own personal revolution, though I’m sure it had begun long ago in little personality traits and whispers and preferences.  Who I have become today has always felt like an arrival at a long-expected point, like it was the trajectory everything was always leading up to.  These days, when someone accuses me of having changed, I smile and say “Thank cod.”

Despite my budding interest in the radical, I plunged into a 9-5 desk job proofreading two weeks after graduation.  I had college loans to pay off, and, well, getting a job after college was just was you did, wasn’t it?  Though I had spent hours looking into various programs teaching English abroad, it was the debt that convinced me to take the job.  I can’t remember the feeling, but I must have felt lucky to have actually found something in my field immediately.  And I suppose the experience was interesting in its way.

But it was also stressful, and it made me unhappy.  I spent evenings running off my aggression at the gym, and while I was in the best shape of my life physically because of it, emotionally I was teetering.  Teetering but disciplined.  I had a tight budget (I don’t even remember this, but dear Jill reminded me of it recently), I only let myself drink on weekends (I’m glad I now live in a country where beer isn’t one of the easiest things to cut out of your life if you want to save a lot of money in a hurry), and I made double and triple payments on my loans whenever I could.  The extreme thrift added to my misery from time to time, but in the end it opened the door.  I paid off my debt ($10,000) in one year and decided to take a job au pairing in Germany.  Take that corporate life, take that.

In order to save, I’d had to practice my thrift, something I’d already learned a lot about from my mother (who had fostered in me a love of yard and rummage sales at an early age).  This collided with my emerging political sense.  I bet that movie Fight Club even had its part to play.  Point was, I was noticing that I had too much stuff, bought too much stuff, and that I was the none the happier for any of it.  My path to simplicity started small.  “I will never buy another pair of pajamas or purse again.”  It was the beginning of a long journey to make my life about something other than moving objects from one place to another.  Slowly I identified things I was spending money on that I didn’t really need, and I stopped buying them.  And I still haven’t bought a purse or pair of pajamas.

Books, purses, and pajamas.  Where did it start for you?  Are any of you going through this right now?

0 Comments on “the path to escape: renouncing

  1. i can’t even tell you how excited i am about this series. i am thanking cod up and down this morning…. my transformation began a couple years ago, and i think i am near the end of my ‘renouncing’ phase…. so i really need to read this series right now. thank you gorilla mama.

  2. I saw the title of your post and I was like, did I write a guest post and then forget about it? Hahaha. Can I feature some of this series on my blog next week, because all my posts next week are about the exact same thing.

    I remember you telling me about the pajama thing because I remember standing in a store with my college roommate thinking- I don’t need to buy this, whatever it was. I remember the moment and standing under the escalator but I don’t remember what I didn’t buy. I also can’t remember what I gave up first but I think I just decided no new clothes except underwear or something. And I still have that rule! It better be at Goodwill if I’m going to buy it.

  3. Anyway I guess the point of all that was that you set me on the path, to a large extent. I was headed in that direction and you sent me The Dispossesed and I think brought me my copy of Emma Goldman’s autobiography, and when you gave up pajamas I was like, I’m so going to do that too. Though I have never gave up on pajamas I guess because I love making them…

  4. I am “going through” being pretty broke again right now, which for me tends to make finding being thrifty attractive rather attractive (if that makes any sense in an English speaker’s English).
    Plus I just read large parts of “Affluenza” (yeah, always funny to look at those silly Americans).
    I would say what you and some your commenters live is close to my ideal, but I am not (yet?) on that path. I should start with taking _shorter_ showers, if just to bring the damn mould under control.
    All the best to you and Miss Pickles, and I love to read this kind of posts.

  5. I’m also very excited to read about this. Namely because I always admired your budget and envied your ability to just take off and traverse the ocean in search of new things. I used to feel proud that I could fit all my worldly possessions in the backseat and trunk of my car. But now that I am in a home I love and a place that I have grown to feel suits me, I am more eager to feel established and somehow, material goods still play a part in that. And I just bought my very first brand-new non-essential item: a bicycle. So, I’m interested to hear about your journey and see how it matches up with mine.

  6. Am definitely in this phase now, but it bothers me that I can’t put my finger on how it started. Probably after college when I realized I hated working a corporate job. Then at some point I started reading early retirement/financial independence blogs and realized that if you are smart you can find a way out of the 9-5.

    But what’s curious to me is how I didn’t just make myself stop shopping to save money, I actually stopped enjoying it. Even a quick trip through Target is enough to make me anxious, make my head hurt. So many choices, so much stuff, the flourescent lighting!

  7. oh man, hard to say. i still remember the first time i walked into a salvation army at age twelve & it was love at first used good. but i guess the big change was much later. i’m pretty sure it all started with feminist theory.

  8. Currently im trying to see how long i can go without paying for any groceries. I have two very picky housemates and it seems to be working so far, except the dumpster diving is turning into a second full time job. It doesn’t help that I live in Florida, where everything spoils in the heat fairly quickly. But for the hundreds of dollars a month im not spending at the supermarket, its totally worth the armies of flies.

  9. Just put hold requests in for Affluenza and Radical Homemakers at the library. My husband was laid off three months ago, and I am spending a fair amount of time analyzing my attachment to buying stuff and the need v. want dilemna. It is amazing how much we’ve cut back, but at the same time I’ve been having strong reactions to not being able to just drop $5 here and $10 there. I had no idea I was addicted to the rush of spending/consuming until now. And I’m the frugal one. I love reading your blog, and find it so inspiring. Thank you!

  10. Oh yes!!! (As you know). Like with you, this stuff was brewing in me for a long time. But it took the combination of a lot of things to finally help me make my decision to finally change radically. And I’m pleased to say you played a large part in it Nikki!
    Firstly it was motherhood, then it was discovering attachmenting parenting and radical unschooling. Then it was discovering a blogger called Tara Wagner and reading her theories. Then starting my own blog. And finally discovering your blog, and being inspired by you and your way of life. I was so inspired to take those last steps and be brave. And through your blog I found The New Escapologist (another big influence).
    I’m still in the early stages of this journey. But I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life. Thank you for being such an inspiration.

  11. Pingback: The Road to Self Employment, Part II | Fish In The Water

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