Life's Little Details: Knitting, Sewing, Green Living, Frugal Living and Cooking In A Little Corner of Southern French Countryside.

Friday, March 02, 2007

What Is the Meaning of Life?

Once upon a time, back in the olden days (when I was in high school) a math teacher revealed to us the meaning of life. According to him, the answer was "Twelve." And, sure, why not? It's about as valid as any other answer. At the time, I only saw it for the joke that it most likely was meant to be. Now that I am older and presumably wiser, I find a deeper meaning in it. Twelve is just any old number. For all I know, he chose a different number each time he told that joke. What's important in that is that I can choose any old number, too. Or, more interestingly, I can choose any old purpose that suits me. I can even claim one purpose for a while and later switch to a new one when it pleases me more. That's the beauty of life. There isn't any set rule about which direction to go. All you have to do is choose. Of course, for many, that's the hard part.

My post about randomness yesterday may have given you the wrong impression. It at least appears to have led my mother astray. She seemed to think yesterday's thoughts came from a sense of despair. Don't worry. They didn't. I wasn't the least bit depressed or confused about my life. I was merely expressing what many people probably feel at some point in their lives: a sense of the need to find a purpose for themselves. My mother reminded me that raising happy, loving people (like that sweet little girl up there) is just about the greatest purpose I can find for myself. And, I won't deny it's true. On the other hand, I also know that mothers who always live through their children's successes will inevitably end up lacking something. Because those successes are not their own. You can work hard to raise your children "right" and be proud of them when they succeed or turn out to be decent people. But, as a parent, my definition of success will most likely not completely correspond to my children's own wishes for their lives. And, when they do succeed (in whatever manner suits them best), it will be their success, not my own. I'll have to find my own. So, yesterday's thoughts were merely my search for the words to describe that feeling (that I think a lot of stay-at-home moms feel) of needing to find my own purpose amidst the chaos that parenthood can sometimes be.

I figure for now, I can make my purpose simple. Like I said yesterday, I have thoughts about the world around me (No, really, it's true). Some of them are deeper than others, and while I have your attention here, I may as well share them with you. Who knows? Maybe they will influence at least one person, or at least make some people reconsider their own choices in life and examine why they make them.

So, we'll start today... A while back, I decided to start shopping for clothes at thrift stores (if I were in the US, I'd try garage sales, but those don't really exist around here). Part of this decision comes from the desire to spend less. I'll be the first to admit that I wasn't exactly raised with frugality in mind. And, I'll also admit that spending money can be fun. But, I have made the choice to stay at home at least while my children are small, and that leaves us with only my husband's income from his wine business. And, no matter what romantic notions you might have about wine-making, it is not a lucrative business for most vintners. So, a change in my spending habits was actually quite necessary. It isn't always easy for me, but it is something I am willing to work at.

Spending less is not the only reason I have found for thrift store shopping, though. In the past several years, I have become more and more concerned about the effect that I, personally, can have on the environment. Sure, I can recycle, or I can try to generate less waste by consuming less prepackaged foods, for example, but that only amounts to so much waste reduction. There is a greater impact to be made, I think. And, it lies in my fashion choices. Articles like this one can be found all over the internet. Or, how about this one? You read things like this, and you see immediately the impact that buying new clothes can have on the world around you. And, yet, I'll admit to being female. I like clothes. I like the way a new shirt can make me feel somehow prettier. I'm not immune to that. So, what are my options?

There are some fabulous organic clothes out there, but they are not in my price range. Does that really mean that I should have to contribute to the pollution of the earth (to make "traditional" cotton) with hazardous chemicals or ask the world's poor to slave away for my benefit? I've decided that the answer is no. Instead, I can "speak out" in the way that is most felt by large companies - with my pocketbook. I can refuse to see a $3 t-shirt as reasonably priced. Because, yes, I'll admit that I've come to expect clothes at such low prices, too (I'm certain the clothing companies have intentionally convinced us clothes should be cheap - the less we feel we're being gouged the more we're likely to buy, after all). But, what is the real price of that garment? What is the environmental price? What does is cost the workers in some sweat shop in a developing nation somewhere? I'm pretty sure the answers to these questions are something I'd rather not face. So, rather than face the reality of the consequences of buying cheap crap (because, let's face it, it's crappy clothing anyway), I have decided to stop that shopping cycle. I'll allow someone else to buy the cheap crap (because that's their own choice to make) and I'll feed off of their cast-offs. I'll go to the thrift shop and pick up one of their 1 euro rejects. In the end, I'll get that same feeling of being brand-new that I get with a new piece of clothing. And, I won't have contributed to the ever-growing landfills or the oppression of our world's poorest people to get it.

So, when I show you pictures of my most recent purchase here on my blog, I am not just showing how proud I am to have been so frugal, but I am also showing you that there are good things to be found. You only need to take a few moments to look. It's really no more difficult than sifting through a clearance rack. And, if you find it creepy to wear pre-owned clothes, then get out your laundry detergent before wearing them. It can't be any worse than the chemical residue that is bound to reside on your brand-spanking-new clothes straight from the department store.

So, without further ado, I'll show you my latest purchase (yes, another bathroom fashion show). On the way home from the grocery store yesterday, I stopped off at one of the nearby Secours Populaire shops (The French Goodwill, remember?). I had realized that my last shopping experience there had left me with a few good shirts and several things needing a little work. I also realized all of the shirts I had bought were button-downs. I like them, but I have to admit I do love t-shirts. So, I hunted down some t-shirts. Ten euros later, I had a bag full of different shirts for myself, as well as a few cute things for Lambchop #3. This is the one button-down in yesterday's bunch that I just couldn't pass up. It was exactly my size (so no modification necessary) and very cute. In case you have trouble distinguishing the colors, it's pastel stripes of lime green, white, light blue and tan. I get the same feeling of being a brand-new me as I always do with a new shirt, but at a fraction of the price and a fraction of the environmental cost. Who could argue with that? Even my husband couldn't find any objections with it. It's just money well-spent.

So, until the day comes when I can afford to support companies who do their darnedest to provide their workers with a proper living wage and limit their use of harmful chemicals to a bare minimum, this is my alternative. I will try to curb my spend-thrift tendencies with thrift shop purchases and making my own clothes - like this sweater vest I've just finished the front of (like that transition into knitting content?).

And, of course, I can bake almost entirely organic chocolate cakes (the only non-organic ingredient is the sugar, which comes from stocks previously purchased by someone else - even the chocolate is fair trade, organic chocolate). I'll do what I can to save the world one delicious bite at a time. Because, conservation is not about deprivation, and I've got the chocolate mustache to prove it.