The sustainable is about time

Upon hearing about this project, my friend @finn sent me a link to Bruce Sterling’s The Last Viridian Note. There’s a lot in there that resonates, especially his definition of sustainability: “So basically, the sustainable is about time – time and space. You need to re-think your relationship to material possessions in terms of things that occupy your time.” One thing I’ve found freeing already is how much extra time I seem to have because I’m not shopping, or needing to shop. Granted I also haven’t bought groceries in a month because my husband’s been doing that!

Since we moved into our current home nearly three years ago, I’ve been a fairly disciplined purger, going through our belongings and giving away what we no longer need or use. Sterling’s observation of stuff inspires me further:

[O]bjects can damage you personally. The hours you waste stumbling over your piled debris, picking, washing, storing, re-storing, those are hours and spaces that you will never get back in a mortal lifetime. Basically, you have to curate these goods: heat them, cool them, protect them from humidity and vermin. Every moment you devote to them is lost to your children, your friends, your society, yourself.

It’s not bad to own fine things that you like. What you need are things that you GENUINELY like. Things that you cherish, that enhance your existence in the world. The rest is dross.

Do not “economize.” Please. That is not the point. The economy is clearly insane…So “economization” is not your friend. Cheapness can be value-less. Voluntary simplicity is, furthermore, boring. Less can become too much work.

I’m sensing a process of curating my goods lies somewhere in this project. The challenge is keeping stuff I genuinely like and use while acknowledging the fear of needing something unbuyable in the future. How to balance a kind of “hoarding so I can make do” – I kept three sweaters I don’t wear, rather than donate, because I think I may patch/mend/craft with them – with the probable reality that I still have enough.

Compost ahoy!

I broke down and bought a compost bin. I’ve wanted to get one since we moved into our current house and never managed to find one that was just right. I’m terrified of attracting horrible giant NYC rats. And we have limited space. But I found a small one that rotates, the same a friend uses in her NYC yard, rat-free.

I’m excited to be able to produce less waste and to use our compost in our small garden. It will be great not having to buy compost, and being more sustainable in our daily lives. I’m also looking forward to teaching my kids about composting, and learning how to do it together as a family.

Did I break my rules? I don’t think so. I’d say it’s household purchase, not personal. And it’s a long-term investment in something that’s better in the end for everyone. Still, now buying anything makes me feel all weird and funny. I guess that’s progress?


In 2012, I'm not going to buy anything except what I've used up or worn out. For all else, I'll make do with what I already own or I'll do without. I've come up with some guidelines. Update: for 2013 I'm going to continue along, but not as strictly.


I'm Meg Hourihan. I live in New York City but was raised in Massachusetts. I blame my Yankee-ness for this crazy idea. Read more about me and this project.


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