81. the July Stuff challenge — successes and failures

This is one of several posts discussing Richard Foster’s chapter on Simplicity in Celebration of Discipline.

How did I do in July with trying not to buy much that might “break the back” of someone else?

I promised to let you know the results, and here it is the end of August beginning of September!

I did some things well, and some things were harder. But I won’t say that I failed at anything, because all month, I was very conscious of what I purchased, and where and how it was made; and I have to say, that it has carried over into August. Well, sort of… More about that later…

Knowing my memory lapses, I kept a notebook of my purchases, both ordinary and not. So here’s the results:

  • Paint and House Supplies:

I bought paint — Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Willliams are both made in the USA. Behr (Gasp, yes, I bought Behr!) was a little more difficult to find information about — I actually had to google it…They are owned by Masco (Arrow staples, Delta faucets, Behr…) with headquarters in Santa Ana, CA and manufacturing facilities in Georgia, Kansas City, and Chicago. Made in USA is written on both Ben Moore and S-W paint cans in very large lettering. One would think Behr would take the hint…

Paintbrushes were a task as well. Purdy brushes are made in the USA, but they are very $$$. Mr. H.C., the contractor husband, gasped and complained mildly when I brought two Purdys home this month. The second time he specifically asked me to get him a brush, and he showed me the one he wanted from his stash of seventy gazillion paintbrushes. It was a Zibra. I said, “I’m not buying it if it’s made in China.”

I practically opened the Zibra brush in the store — I read the entire label and the country of origin was nowhere to be found. It was two dollars cheaper than the Purdy. So I put it back, bought the Purdy and resolved to find out about Zibra. According to their website, they are a women-driven company from the U.S.. Yes, their paintbrushes are made in China, but they also run the Made in China Foundation, which is a foundation existing solely to make it easier for U.S. families to adopt Chinese babies. So, the jury is still out on that one…

  • Clothing:

I bought three pieces of clothing in July. Two of them — scrubs and a t-shirt were bought at the local Mission store. The other was a nice dress.

My son is getting married in September, and my daughter made a secret Pinterest board for me called Mom’s Dresses.  She pinned 63 dresses for me to look at! So I bought one from Shabbyapple.com. It was made in Malaysia, but on the dress is this tag:IMG_2588

On their website, they say, Shabby Apple donates 5% of its net income to support work with 62 microfinance institutions in 31 countries throughout the world. So the jury is still out  on that one too.

And I have to add here, since it is September, that I’ve bought some clothing — for the wedding, and for back to school — and this is where I think it is the hardest to discern what to buy and what to avoid. In addition to finding something that looks good, fits well, is within a budget, and is made of  natural fibers, NOW we have to worry about where it was made, and under what conditions??? Sometimes all that is Just. Too. Hard.

  • Groceries and Food:

This was where I failed the most, but it is also — overwhelmingly — where I spent the most money. Avocados from Peru and Mexico; Bananas from Guatemala; Organic limes and grapes from Mexico.

IMG_2619

But I also found Fair Trade Coffee at Aldi’s Market (and they have started carrying organic Fair Trade bananas as well) and Fair Trade Raw Sugar from Malawi at the Food Coop. July made it easy to go to the Farmer’s Markets where local produce was abundant. There is also Fencerow Farmer’s Market in Waynesburg where they sell local meats, (Greene County lamb is world-famous!) honey, milk, and eggs year round. Also right up the road from us at Apple Hill is Mother Earth Farm, who also stock local organic eggs and fruits and vegetables. It is almost more convenient to buy locally in Greene County, than it is in Pittsburgh. Of course, Pittsburgh has the Food Coop and Trader Joes.

Buycott Phone SnapNow I will tell you about my new-found app to make buying and supporting (or not supporting) companies easier. It is called Buycott; and it really helps in the grocery store, where most of my problems occurred. Of course, that could be because 75% of my consumer dollars were spent buying food.

It is a free app. You spend a little time inputting what you want to support, and what you don’t want to buy. Then you scan the barcode of your items and it tells you (most of the time) where it was made or other information. It’s cool. It makes your shopping time longer, especially the first few times you use it. But then, once you know what products are safe, you can just go to them every time.

  • Miscellaneous Health and Other Supplies:

I also broke my own rule and went into a Dollar Store. I needed Band-Aids and Triple Anti-biotic Ointment, both of which were had at cheaper prices than the drug stores, AND they were made in the USA as well. Success! I also found that greeting cards in the Dollar Stores are made in the US. And as far as deodorant and dishwashing liquid goes, this month, I MADE MY OWN! but that’s another post…

Here’s another example of cheap vs. natural: little scrubby sponges — the green ones you buy for scrubbing pots? At the dollar stores they are cheap — sometimes three for a dollar. Made somewhere far away, probably by some poor woman who can never get the green dye off her hands. The alternative is  a nice natural sponge, made in the US, a pleasant tan color like a sponge should be, and it costs $4.99!  I bought that one (mostly because I don’t think sponges should be green). But I gotta say, sometimes it just depends how much money I have that week!

Two other things stymied me — gasoline and aluminum foil. I have no idea where Getgo (Giant Eagle) gasoline comes from, who the company is that supplies them, and I’m really of the mind that it doesn’t matter; all gasoline is from bad companies. If anyone can correct me on this, please do.

And aluminum foil —  Reynolds has a very good ethical statement on their website, but I rarely buy Reynolds Wrap, I usually buy the cheap stuff, and I have no idea where it comes from. And it doesn’t say on the boxes, either…

  • Eating Out:

Found this photo at

Found this photo on the blog CarrieOn


We didn’t eat out too often this month, but when we did, we ate at locally owned restaurants except for one lunch — we were on the road, with a group of people, and we ate at Wendy’s. But to be honest, this was atypical too. We do eat at Subway and Wendy’s and Papa John’s  more than we should…

In some ways, July was an atypical month of spending. I’m not working through the summer, and cash is always a little tight, We were watching spending anyway this month, so it was a little easier to buy cautiously. For instance, I will confess that just last week (August) we went to a big box store and bought a new light for our city kitchen, knowing full well that it was probably going to be made in China. Yep, it was, and we bought it anyway.  Sometimes cheap is more important, I’m sorry to say.

*******

I’m glad I did this buying challenge. It translated into giving me a cautious buying mood (most of the time). And it made me consider what I really need; I don’t think I bought anything frivolous in July. I’m going to really try to have this be a new attitude for my spending.

Ellen Tracy "Ophelia" ballet flatsBut I might need a pair of new shoes for this wedding that’s coming up soon…

75. Listen, your stuff is talking

This is part 7 of several posts discussing Richard Foster‘s chapter on Simplicity in Celebration of Discipline.

This past week a group from our church spent four days in Manasquan, Mantoloking, and Lavalette, three towns on the Jersey Shore that were affected by Hurricane Sandy. Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. FosterOn Saturday evening we went to the coffee-house type worship at the church. The speaker was Jen, part of the praise team, who spoke passionately on the Simplicity chapter in Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline.  I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe that our Maker puts things in our lives for us to learn and be amazed by them. So, I was amazed. Two other women in our group had also participated in the Celebration of Discipline book study this spring. We all looked at each other and smiled. Yes, this talk was for us.

One by one, she spoke about the practical guidelines Foster puts forth, which, if we follow them, will lead us to a life of honest simplicity. The key words here are If we follow them

Foster’s eighth guideline for practical simplicity is this: Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech.

Jen read this one, looked at the audience and said humorously, “I’ve got this one nailed.”

I laughed along with the audience. Not because I had this one nailed, but because I know how she felt to finally come upon one of Foster’s instructions that allows you to think, “Yes! Got it!”

So what are Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech?

Let your yes be yes

In Matthew 5:33-37 he says : “And don’t say anything you don’t mean…Just say yes and no. When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.” (paraphrased in The Message by Eugene Peterson.) That is — No excuses, no whining, no explaining, no fancy talk, no elaboration, no maybes, no swearing… Yes, I’ll be glad to. No, I’m sorry, I can’t.

In past posts “stuff” has dealt mostly with physical stuff, perhaps because that is usually what we think of when the ubiquitous word stuff rolls off our tongue or across our keyboard. But today, let’s think of stuff  as the baggage we carry around every day, those black garbage bags that color our thoughts and our speech. Bitterness, anger, jealousy, envy — all those ugly words weigh us down and come out in our talk.

eat your words

It used to be called Diarrhea of the Mouth; now it’s called TMI. It is very difficult to claim Not Guilty on this one. Ever just want to fill the silence with talking and then realize that you are saying nothing of importance? Ever interrupt someone just to get in your two cents? Ever say something and then think, Why did I say that? Ever say, Well, don’t tell anyone this, but… Ever talk just to feel important? Ever speak of someone unkindly?

Yes, to all the above. It’s not pretty to admit.
if you can't be kind

We’ve all been in conversations when suddenly the talk takes a turn for the worse. Words spill out, awkwardness ensues, someone leans down to tie a shoe… Perhaps you were the listener? Perhaps you were the talker?

We’ve also all been in conversations when the other person stops listening. Their eyes glaze over, body language changes, they lean down to tie a shoe… And we are likely to think them rude, when we should be wondering if it could be our talk.

Listening is an art, yes, but so is speaking. And maybe we should all just shut up? My Mom always used to say,

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.”

I used to hate it when she said that. Behind her back, I would mouth the words and roll my eyes. But today, I’m here to say, You were right, Mom. (Are you listening?)

Those  words that spill out from our stuff? They can only get us in trouble. With our friends, with our families, with our spouses, with our bosses, with Jesus. So, Zip your lips, Think before you speak, Put a sock in it, Bite your tongue, Pray for patience, Leave the room. Whatever you have to do to keep your speech honest and upright and pleasing, just do it. For the person you’re with, and for Jesus.Don't let your words be swords

Do I have this one nailed? No, but I’m trying. And when I can’t do it myself, I can call on the one who was nailed to the cross for me.

72. Stuff that breaks other people’s backs

This is part 6 of several posts discussing Richard Foster’s chapter on Simplicity in Celebration of Discipline.

We bought a galvanized wash tub the other day to use next to the washer we are installing. (Well, Mr. H.C. is installing it; I’m not the plumber!) An old-fashioned galvanized tub seemed to fit the cottage better than the cheap plastic ones that sell at the Big Box stores. UPS delivered the tub last Monday, and I put it together in the front yard. galvanized laundry tub It came from Pigeon Mountain Trading Company in Georgia, but it was made in Mexico. And my question is: If I buy a galvanized tub made in Mexico, am I supporting some poor person who is working at his own business to support his family, or am I making him/her work in a dangerous factory with molten metal and lousy working conditions? Am I giving some person in need of a job welcome employment, or is it a low-paying job that doesn’t provide for a decent living?*

Yes, this is another “stuff” post that is hard to write, hard to live…

Foster’s ninth rule of practical simplicity reads:  Richard Foster quoteRichard Foster’s chapter on Simplicity from Celebration of Discipline is not easy. It has stuck with me, and made me consider many of my actions and the way I live as a wealthy American. No, we won’t ever make the Forbes list of billionaires, but we have houses, cars, and too much stuff, plus some money in the bank. If a family of four makes $40,000 a year (after taxes) they are in the richest 15% of the world’s population. To discover just how rich you are on a world wealth scale, you can go to this site Giving What We Can. (I’m not necessarily recommending their charities, but the money information was very personal and interesting.)

And not only do I have more wealth than most people in the world, the stuff I buy might be contributing to someone else’s oppression…

Ann Taylor Loft curvy cropped jeansAlso within the last two weeks, I purchased a new pair of jeans at Ann Taylor Loft and the same questions apply: Were they made in one of those clothing factories that caught fire or collapsed? Or if not those, another sweatshop in another poor country? We live in a world of instant information, but how do we find this out?

I have a closet full of cheap clothes, and I’m not sure that expensive clothes aren’t made side by side with the cheap stuff in the same sweat shops. I’m struggling with this because I don’t think there is one right answer. Government regulations and unions made the industry disappear from this country, and there will always be a poorer country and an unscrupulous owner to exploit the laborers, whether it be in Bangladesh, Haiti, or Malawi. But it troubles me that I might have encouraged it. Richard Foster writes,

“This is one of the most difficult and sensitive issues for us to face, but face it we must. Do we sip our coffee and eat our bananas at the expense of exploiting Latin American peasants? In a world of limited resources, does our lust for wealth mean the poverty of others?…”

One person can’t change the world. But I can be informed. And I can spend my dollars in a way that I feel comfortable. If you are still reading, you have probably thought about this lately as well. So may I humbly suggest:

  • Buy Used or Local — consignment shops and re-sale stores have great clothes and at good prices… Buy presents at local craft stores, Etsy, art festivals… (And beware of historic looking items that are reproductions made in China…) Buy your food at local farmer’s markets — especially in the summer.
  • Learn to Sew or make it yourself– don’t let that sewing machine sit lost under clutter.  (See Post 70. Sew What?)  (Although I have a concern as to where textiles are made as well…) But let’s not stop at clothing — laundry soap, face creams, deodorants, simple cleansers — they are better for you and better for the environment.
  • Buy American — Just in the past few days, I have found these two websites: Made in America and Made in USA Forever. Several days ago, I bought shower curtain rings at Big Lots (12 for $1.99.) They were made in China. All the shower curtain rings in the store were  made in China. Made in America Shower Curtain RingsWhen I googled Made in America Shower Curtain Rings I found  these metal shower curtain rings, made in the good old USA for 14.95. This has the added benefit of helping OUR economy! And this leads me to the next suggestion,
  • Stay Out of Dollar Stores — Unless you are buying paper towels, there’s probably not much inside that is made by someone who is given a fair wage.

Fair Trade Organic Chocolate

  • Buy Fair Trade items — Coffee and chocolate are labeled clearly Fair Trade; Ten Thousand Villages has a fair trade policy; many ministries and non-profits support honest wages, cooperatives, and people who are learning a skill.
  • Demand that corporations be transparent about where and how their goods are made. (I’m composing my letter to Ann Taylor right now! I know it won’t do any good, but what if a thousand of us threatened to not shop at a clothing store until their manufacturing practices are more transparent?)
  • Do Without — This is the land of stuff; just look at what we waste. Think about your purchases. Do you really need that new cell phone  (Apple has recently come under fire for the conditions of their manufacturing plants as well…), that new tool, those new shoes, that new cooking gadget?

Today is July 1st. I challenge you to 31 days of making sure what you buy is NOT breaking the back of someone else. I will be writing down my purchases (including food) this month and where they were manufactured. And I’ll let you know how well I’ve succeeded–or failed– in a month or so. No guarantees — I’m as guilty as all of US. And I know that buying this way is more expensive, and it doesn’t make me happy. So what do you think? Are you willing to spend 11.99 on a t-shirt made in America (Organic all-cotton!) as opposed to a $2.99 t-shirt from Joe Fresh that broke the back of someone in Bangladesh?**

*The average hourly rate for a factory worker in Mexico in 2011 was $2.50/hour. Although according to this article by the Brookings Institute, wages in Mexico are rising and manufacturing there is benefitting from close proximity to the United States.

**And just to be clear, I am not against a global economy; I realize that buying American is not the answer for everything; but buying locally has the added benefit of keeping your dollars in your own community… And that’s a good thing.
Buy local, Buy Greene