The mountain and the passion

It’s 6pm and we’re driving back to the city after a few days in the mountains. I watch the tired looking drivers going in the opposite direction, the corner of their mouths pointing down, their cars bumper to bumper in the rush hour traffic- I wish we had stayed in the country a bit longer. All the space, the fresh air, the orange sunset and the simple life… No rush to get anywhere.

Nature always does this to me. It makes me slow down and appreciate more what I have. It makes me have romantic dreams of moving to a cute little cottage in the mountains with views of the bush, a colourful garden and wallabies greeting us in the morning. But then I walk to the nearest village and all shops are closed on a Tuesday afternoon. There is no where to eat. We walk to a local park and my kids are attached by magpies. There is blood. I see overweight teenagers walking aimlessly around the streets with a cigarette in their hands. The country is no paradise.

As we got closer to home the traffic got heavier in all directions. It’s easy to think that just by moving to a different area we can make our lives better. But the problem I see is not so much the area, it’s the way we are living our lives, always too busy doing things without passion and for many people that includes even work.

As we waited in traffic I got thinking of the free-range humans that quit their corporate jobs and become self-employed. There is a growing number of people leaving the 9-5 working world, lured by a life of freedom and flexibility or simply by necessity as full-time permanent work becomes more scarce. Instead of jobs they have gigs. Sometimes when I get too busy with my life I feel like joining them too, with the hope that I’ll be working less hours per week.

But when I really look into it I feel this promise of freedom is no different from the romantic dream of a peaceful country life. How much freedom is there in a life without a steady stream of income, sick leave, super?  How about fair pay? I’ve recently seen an advertisement for freelance writers offering to pay 3 cents per word. The pay situation with the raise of technology platforms that allow workers to easily find short-term gigs seems to be similar to many types of work. How can you have a decent income with such low rates?

You have to get several gigs at the same time to maintain a good life-style so you end up working more than you would in a 9-5 job. That defeats the purpose of leaving the corporate world in my view. I guess to become a free-range human you need to be prepared to live a life that lacks the comforts of the consumption economy.

By the time we parked the car in the garage, I was thinking that the key is always passion and purpose. If you enjoy your work your 9-5 job ins’t a drag.  Or if you have other passions outside work, as long as you can find time to cultivate them, even the most mundane 9-5 job can enable your passions. I think the same principle applies if you are self-employed. If your life lacks passion you will continue to feel unfulfilled regardless of the type of work arrangements you have.







My Vintage Coat: Stories Behind our Clothes


Dad used to say that if the fashion industry depended on him “they would be out of business.”. He couldn’t understand why anyone would buy a new piece of garment when his/her closet was full of clothes in wearable condition. Dad lived by the ideals of the slow fashion movement, although the term had yet to be coined. His clothes had a story to tell and he proudly shared with us the history behind his archeological items. I fondly remember a beige cardigan that he wore in airplane trips “this one I bought when I married your mother 22 years ago” and a warn out and stained polo shirt “from 1979 when the twins were born.”.

I used to look at dad upholding his principle of quality and utility versus style and consumerism and think how unfashionable he was, wearing white business shirts and dark pants day in, day out. For a bit of variety, sometimes the white shirts displayed faint stripes and occasionally he wore a tie. But other than that it was the same look everyday. It took me years to see that his old-fashioned grace expressed in his warn out attire and I’m noticing that the older I get the more similar to dad I become—I’m growing attached to my old rags.

My wardrobe isn’t large enough to accommodate clothing for all seasons so every end of summer and winter I have to rotate my clothes. I have to go through every item and inevitably end up with heavy bags of unwanted pieces for the Salvos. But the last two rotations I hardly had to recycle anything because 1. I’m buying much less clothes and 2. I’ve developed an emotional connection with my clothes.

I’ve got a vintage, blue checked coat that I bought with one of my first paycheques and now when winter comes to an end I look at my coat hanging in the wardrobe and ponder if it’s time for it to go. I probably only wear it a couple of times a year now. But I can still vividly remember the smile on my face when I brought this coat home. Back then I was into fashion and I was brave. I used to wear this coat as a dress and it only covered a quarter of my legs; this coat-dress marked a time of exploration and finding my identity and after so many years it still looks timeless, it keeps passing the test of time.

This vintage coat went with me to a holiday in New York. I remember walking down Times Square wearing my blue ‘dress’, thick blue stockings and a pair of boots that made me look 15cm taller. I remember the necks turning (don’t know if because I looked too hot or too weird!). The coat also followed me to Australia and is now part of winter wardrobe.

When I bought this coat I brought home a fashion label but now the tag has long faded and this piece of garment has become part of my story. I can’t help but look at it with the same fondness and connection I have with a good old book. And it has an added benefit; I can always turn the page and start a new chapter, I just need to wear it again. If this coat lasts until I’m old and frail I’ll pass it on and let it start a new story—this is if I find anyone.

Too many clothes today have an unfortunate story to tell. We rarely buy a timeless item, it’s all about cheap fashion, in today and out tomorrow. In the rare occasions when I go out to shop for clothes, I notice how fast the fashion industry has become. Fashion racks distract us with clothes that haven’t been worn yet but carry a story of exploitation, poverty wages and sweatshops. Drawers, wardrobes and closets all around the world are overflowing with dirty cheap clothes and many still have the store label attached. These items have a dark past and a bleak future—they will pile up landfills, biodegrading for decades.

My siblings donated dad’s clothes to charity but looking back now I wish I had inherited his beige cardigan. Sure it was worn out and wouldn’t fit me but I could use it for those moments when it’s too cold, too fast and too lonely and I just want to wrap myself with his memories. This is the closest I can get to him now.

2 adults, 2 kids, loads of rubbish


How much rubbish does your family produce in a week?

As soon as the garbage man drives away with our detritus most of us think it’s no longer our problem. Out of sight out of mind. But all that garbage, along with the waste created to produce it, is simply put in a big hole in the ground, or it’s first burned in an incinerator and then dumped in a landfill. Both ways produce a lot of pollution—the materials and food scraps that fill these landfills breakdown and eventually release methane and other toxic substances that pollute, kill animals or destroy their habitat and damage the environment in many other ways.

And man, we produce a lot of garbage! I wanted to measure how much waste my family produced in a week but within four days the 55 litre container was overflowing. Mind you, this container doesn’t include our food waste and I’ve been reciting the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle mantra for a while, I’m quite conscious of what goes in my shopping trolley. So, even with sustainability in mind, I’m still creating a lot of pollution.

I guess for me the issue is that I’ve focused on recycling more than everything else. Recycling is the easiest part as it requires minimal change in routines and habits. It does have its benefits, recycling reduces the amount garbage on the planet—and  consequently the pollution it generates—but for various reasons, recycling alone isn’t enough to make a considerable impact on the environment . Firstly, for you to produce one bin of household garbage, the extraction-production-distribution process has already filled up 70 garbage bins—so your bin sitting in the kerb is just the tip of the iceberg. To compound the problem, each year we are increasing our consuming and offsetting even more the benefits of recycling. Another issue is that some products simply cannot be recycled—think items like rubber tires, Styrofoam, plastic, fiberglass and metals.

Treating and re-processing our waste can only make a difference to a point. What we really need to do is to reduce the amount of waste we produce. This means we have to avoid over-consumption, something very hard to achieve because in the developed world where we have a lifestyle that supports consuming more than what we need (if everyone adopted my lifestyle for example it would require 3.5 planet Earths to provide the resources—according to WWF, take the quiz—I’m horrified with my results!).

Changing a lifestyle is hard, we are creatures of routine. We are not used to using products (clothes, shoes, gadgets, toys, decoration items, cars, etc, etc) until they completely wear out instead of buying newer, more fashionable items. We buy more food than we need to eat (think obesity crisis), we buy by impulse without really considering if we need it (think mindless retail therapy). To change our consumption habits we need to develop awareness that there is a problem and the motivation to want to make a difference.

In the last two years I’ve grown interested in learning more about the harmful effects of human activity on the environment. But I’ve been on this planet for four decades, why have I taken so long? After all, scientists and activists have been talking about it for ages. I guess like most of us, I was just too focused on my routines and didn’t really stop to consider the impact of my actions on the planet. I believe everyone has their lightbulb moment when they realise there is a real issue and that they can part of the solution. Thankfully it’s not too late to start taking action yet.

If you care and want to make a difference to the environment by reducing your consumption, here are a few ideas for beginners like me:

  • Start by measuring your impact. In this way you will learn how to make the most effective changes to your lifestyle. See calculator.
  • Think before you buy. Are you making an emotional purchase or do you really need the item?
  • Buy products (including food items) with the least amount of packaging.
  • Fix things whenever possible. For instance, my son just cut a hole in this school pants. Ordinarily I would turn this item into a wipe cloth and buy a new one ($30 won’t break the bank). But with my new mindset I will get it repaired for $15.
  • Use your consumer power. Reject food and goods produced in an unsustainable manner. Your habits can propel  companies to listen and change their practices.
  • Raise awareness. The lifestyle changes we make as individuals are critical, but we need mainstream participation. Use social media to share the word, add your voice to online campaigns and support high-level policy change.

I hope that one day it will take much longer for my family to fill up a 55 litre bin with garbage.

Baked shirts – giving mother Earth a hand on mother’s day


It’s mother’s day and I woke up in a fever of domestic enthusiasm. I put buttons on school shirts (a project that I’ve procrastinated for months!) and I cut two bags of old clothes into small squares to use as cleaning cloths. We had breakfast out but when we got home I made lunch, homemade pesto with basil from my backyard and baked Anzac biscuits. And as the biscuits were in the oven, why not use the radiant heat to dry the school uniforms (it was drizzling outside)?  I felt like a domestic Goddess, so much was accomplished but the best of all I felt like I was acknowledging the planet that sustains and nurtures us.

Going back to the shirts ‘baking’ by the oven – did you realise that the clothes dryer is one of the largest energy user  in the house? If you asked me that a year ago, I wouldn’t have a clue. I wasn’t an environmentally minded individual but this started to change when I read the book The Great Disruption by writer and sustainability advisor, Paul Gilding. The book argues that human activity is growing beyond Earth’s capacity and that our insatiable consumption and waste is leading us to an ecological crisis.

Since I’ve read the book, I’ve been looking for ways to reduce my family’s carbon footprint. It hasn’t been easy and I haven’t made a lot of progress but there are a few things that I’m doing that I think are a move in the right direction:

  • Not buying a clothes dryer (in fact, I’ve never owned one)
  • Stopped buying individually packed biscuits for the lunchboxes
  • Plastic ziplock snack bags have been banned in my household (still have some as I’ve recycled the last ones I had)
  • Baking more snacks for the lunchboxes (and if raining using the oven heat to dry clothes!)
  • Making the effort to take fabric bags to the supermarket – I used to forget them all the time
  • Not buying winter clothes this year. I’ve just revisited my closet and honestly my jacket is still is good condition, and so are my jumpers
  • Reduced my family’s meat consumption: in addition to animal cruelty, animal farming requires massive amounts of land, food, energy, and water
  • Reducing my consumption in general.

Other things I would like to do and hope to implement shortly: take my own containers to take-away shops, buy more of my groceries in bulk, from local farmers and fair trade  and use my own reusable cup for coffee – Australians throw away 1 billion disposable coffee cups per year!

The way we eat, consume and use energy has a huge impact on the planet so we all have an ethical responsibility to do our bit not to inflict too much ecological damage. Happy mother’s day planet Earth – I hope many of sons and daughters are lightening their load on you.