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?