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

67. Gadget stuff

This is part 5 of several posts discussing Richard Foster’s chapter on Simplicity in Celebration of Discipline.

I need want a new IPhone.

There is nothing wrong with mine, except it’s old. A 3GS. If you’re not up on IPhones, that’s 3 models ago. The 4, 4S, and 5 have come out since. A few months ago, I got Mr. H.C. an upgrade for his. He needed one; his little slider thingy (technical jargon) was broken, and he couldn’t silence it, plus it was looking pretty bad because he is a construction guy, and his phone gets a lot of hard use, and he just needed a new phone.

He didn’t want one. Mr. H.C. is not a tekkie; he uses his phone for convenience and work and just wants a phone that will do everything for him and has a short learning curve. (He’s a busy guy.) So I bought him a 4 — not that much different from his old 3G, but it has Siri, and it has a great camera. Yes, a great camera. That’s why I need want one.

Unfortunately Richard Foster reminds me (yet again) that I am falling short here too. I know, I know, we all fall short…


Victoria Elizabeth Barnes, said in a recent blog post, “Incidentally— when you start a blog, you have NO IDEA that you need to take 12,000 pictures of EVERYTHING.” And yes, she is absolutely right! Not only does one need space for one’s thousands of photos, the new IPhone cameras take Panoramic shots, which one absolutely needs if one is trying to show a room transformation… Look at these panoramic shots of the kitchen:

Apple Hill Kitchen

Panorama Apple Hill Kitchen
Yes, these were taken by Mr. H.C’s phone. And not only does it have Panorama options, it also has HDR capabilities. Right! I’m not really a tekkie either, so I only recently learned what this is. It means High Dynamic Range imaging; a few posts ago I complained about not being able to get a good photo of the inside and outside of the kitchen windows in the same shot. That’s what HDR does —

By definition, photography is the art of recording light. This act must be done with the camera sensor — which is only capable of capturing a certain range of light intensity at any given time. Even the most expensive and most professional cameras on the market are not equipped with sensors that can capture all ranges of light in one photograph. That’s where “HDR photography” comes in.”

This was from an article on IPhoneography that I went back to study. So, this photo was taken with Mr. H.C.’s camera as well:

Kitchen Windows at Apple Hill Cottage

HDR technology at work — this is the shot I could never get with either my Canon or my IPhone. I deleted all the tries or I would show you the difference.

If I had my priorities straight, I could be in agreement with TWO of Mr. Foster’s rules for a simple life here.

Most of the time Mr. H. C. is agreeable when I ask to borrow his phone. Last weekend I took eight pictures with it. But sometimes he wants to use it himself? Like tonight, for instance, I wanted to upload the photos onto the Mac and he said, “Well how long will it take?”
Right. Never mind, I’ll do it later.

Convenience! That’s what we want, and we want it now. (Sigh) Oh those wants vs. needs… They are so troublesome. Especially when it comes to tech gadgets. Those custodians of modern gadgetry sure have us propagandized, don’t they? Face it, I have three perfectly good digital cameras at my fingertips, and I’m not satisfied? There is something wrong with this picture. (It must not be in HDR!)

65. More Stuff on Stuff

This is part 4 of several posts discussing Richard Foster’s chapter on Simplicity in Celebration of Discipline.

Of the ten practical ways to embrace simplicity in your life that Richard Foster discusses in Celebration of Discipline, this next one has made me most uncomfortable. I must confess here: it has taken me several weeks to write about this one. Oh, I started it. Three weeks ago I started it…

Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.

Foster is not talking about dangerous addictions here; he is talking about the generally good or fun things that people enjoy, that become obsessions or idols in our lives. Such as buying books, shoes, clothes, watching TV or other media, sports, games, Facebook, Blogging, Pinterest, or ________________(fill in the blank here.)

But please note that Mr. Foster says specifically, “learn to distinguish between what is a real psychological need, like cheerful surroundings, and an addiction.” That line made me smile — Right, we’re just making the cottage into a place with cheerful surroundings!


“My heart will be on books when my strength has failed.” –Carolyn Sherwin Bailey

But I spend a lot of time buying books. I’m a librarian. I buy books from Amazon, Half-Price Books, Powell’s, Abe Books, Barnes and Noble (I’m still in mourning for Borders…) Westminster Book Store, Christian Book Distributors and others. I buy them for work, and I buy them (ahem) for myself…Is it a real psychological need? Yes — for study, for serious reading, for reference; I don’t buy fluff. Well, not much.

And the other thing is — I like owning books. I like the way they feel in my hands. I love opening new books and reading the dust jacket. I enjoy the art on the dust jacket — if you ask me Nooks and Kindles can’t compete. But that’s another post…

And I do give them away. If I loan a book, I generally loan it with the expectation that I won’t get it back. (Unless my name is on the flyleaf; then there are no excuses, right?) I’m glad to give away books I love. And sometimes I buy myself another copy…


My nightstand is proof that I don’t need to buy myself another copy — I have plenty to read. And this is just one nightstand; I have another that looks just like this one at the cottage. (This feels like True Confession time…)

It’s interesting because that’s what Foster recommends — give away the stuff that you love to prove it has no hold over you. He tells a funny story about a young man who was so addicted to his morning newspaper that when it didn’t come one morning, he found himself plotting how to steal his neighbor’s paper. Horrified, he immediately called the newspaper to cancel his subscription. Cold turkey on newspapers! Not because newspapers are bad, but because he didn’t want to be obsessed.

And another suggestion for simple living that goes right along with this one is this: Learn to enjoy things without owning them.

Could I get my books without buying them? Yes. I’m a librarian, for goodness sake! Amazon just makes it so easy…


Support your local library instead of Amazon. Rent a vacation house instead of buying one. Go to museums. Window shop. Rent tools. Lease a car, or better yet, take public transportation if you can. Celebrate public parks. Do free stuff. Steal share your neighbor’s newspaper (with their permission, of course.)

So, some of my books are going to have to go…One of the rooms I love in my city house is the library. Built-in bookshelves all along a wall — such a luxury — and we don’t have the space at the cottage. Though Mr. H.C. has offered to build me a wall of bookshelves in the living room… But boxes of books are so heavy. Should I give away the ones I’m saving to read some day; or my favorites that I’m saving to read again? Hmmm…

Is there something you need to be careful about buying because you buy too much? Is there something that you need to be careful about doing because you do it too much?