Week 6: Spending

In the course of ‘7’, I’ve been faced a couple of times with truth about how voraciously I love to consume. Shopping is a hobby for me, rationalised by the spirit of bargain-hunting which makes it all ok, right? Amazon, e-bay, thebookpeople,txmaxx, and anywhere you see a ‘sale’ sign, all put me into mega bargain mode and poor Jayber has been subjected to the post-sales-analysis of how much I saved a few too many times.

Like all the other 7 categories, it’s not that spending in and of itself is bad, it’s the level to which we do it and what we are doing it for that we are questionning. I shop because I am bored, I shop because I’m not very good at distinguishing want from need, I shop because that bright, shiny person/ad/programme told me I should. I shop because I can, or because that moment of transaction, of something I want becoming mine, is actually a heady, powerful thing.

So this week our family will be limited to 7 transactions. That doesn’t sound so bad. Except that it’s Sunday, and I have 3 days and 2 transactions left. Here’s where they have gone:

  1. Caleb’s birthday party bowling tickets
  2. Snacks for the bowlers
  3. A wii remote off ebay
  4. Groceries for the week
  5. Mother’s day booze, (a vital item, I’m sure you’ll agree)

And I forgot to get eggs and couldn’t find tofu anywhere for Caleb’s birthday dinner tomorrow (yes, I know, an unusal choice for an almost 8 year old) so that’s at least one more transaction. Thankfully, I made extra sure nappies found their way into the trolley this time.

Other ideas for the week include:

  • Limit the number of stores
  • Use only cash for the week, and/or an envelope system to control your spending in different areas
  • Plan your week to avoid spontaneous spending, particularly in the area of food and socialising
  • Calculate how much money you save and enjoy sharing it with someone in need
  • Become a wiser consumer- research your favourite supermarket, coffee shop etc and consider where you really want to spend your money
  • Evaluate what you already have to see what could be repurposed
  • Watch ‘Walmart: the high cost of low price’

I’ve started Spending week a little early and am doing it Thursday (past) to Wednesday. This Thursday, Jayber and I head off for 3 child-free days in Belfast as part of my birthday celebrations. Bliss. I’m going to take a wee ‘7’ sabbatical those days and will begin the final week, Stress, on the Sunday.

See you then.xo


7: Week Five, Waste

Such has been the flurry of birthday and mothering celebrations that blogging has been a bit neglected. Waste week paled in comparison and it’s hard to remember much more than the many renditions of ‘Happy Birthday’ and a lot of small children. But here are a couple of highights:

1. The Car-free day shopping trip.

My last post was written just before we headed out en famille to walk to Asda. We didn’t get off to a great start when Elijah’s scooter broke within 15ft of the house, but we still made it up the dual carriageway and did a supermarket sweep version of the weekly shop. We got some very funny looks on the way home. Every nook and cranny of the double buggy had been stuffed with unbagged groceries. Elijah had spaghetti behind his shoulder, juice under his knees and Juju was surrounded by cereal boxes and apples. A bag of Mini Eggs kept morale up on the way home and we were congratulating ourselves on a fun, successful outing until a whiff of something nasty reminded me of the purpose of the trip and what we had forgotten. Nappies.

2. Laundry. I admit I used this as an excuse to do no laundry for a week but finally crumbled when there were too many pee-soaked items to be conscionable. I did a couple of dryer-free loads but then cracked and switched it on.

Back when we lived in Vancouver, I had a fair bit of counselling from a wonderful Northern Irish psychologist. She had been around Regent College Mums long enough to know both how idealistic and how hard on ourselves some of us could be. One day, she looked me in the eye and said, ‘Debbie, some days you just need to say, ‘Let the Planet Die”. This was not the party line, especially coming from a Faculty Member’s wife. But actually, this has been one of her little gems that I need to hold on to from time to time. Because she knew me well enough to see both my good-hearted intentions and also my legalism, perfectionism and self-criticism (that’s a lot of ism’s). She knew that I can use anything good to beat myself over the head with and make myself feel bad about. It’s really important to take creation care seriously and do whatever we can, but sometimes when it all gets too much and we feel a bit overwhelmed it’s ok to cut ourselves some freaking slack and turn the bloody tumble dryer on. Mental Health is a fragile and beautiful thing.

3. No Impact Man

A little documentary-movie about a family in Manhattan who decide to decrease their impact on the environment to zero over the course of the year. Including no toilet-roll, no fossil fuels of any kind and no chemicals. The Dad, whose idea the whole thing is, is likeable and genuine, while his wife is a little more reluctant and also a little irritating. It’s not as life-changing as ‘Food Inc’, but interesting to see someone do a 7-esque project for a year in the middle of one of the most consumptive places on the planet.

4. The Birthday Bag.

We had 3 birthdays in the house this week. That’s a lot of wrapping paper. So, having had a cup of tea and recovered from my ‘let the planet die’ meltdown earlier in the day, I got out my sewing machine and spent a very pleasant hour creating a Birthday Bag. It’s really just a large drawstring sack which all the birthday person’s gifts go into, minus the wrapping paper (and many hours of wrapping). The kids enjoyed closing their eyes and sticking their hand into the bag to pick out a present at a time, and all the birthday people agreed it would now be A Mullan Family Tradition.

I’m sure we could have done more this week, to get into the spirit of it, but maybe 7 is also trying to teach me that perfection is not the goal, nor is even trying to get it ‘right’. It’s about being willing to go on a journey and some weeks we’ll be able to dive into that and others we might just dip our toe in. And that’s ok.

Week Five: Waste

I have to confess, I am flagging a bit this week.

We started waste week on Friday, and it’s not too taxing so far but I think I am generally feeling a little ‘7’ fatigue. Non-‘7’ life keeps getting busier and more demanding (did I mention it’s birthday month?) and it’s a battle to keep finding the head space a project like this requires.  I’m not known to be a completer-finisher; I’m all about the first flush of enthusiasm so it’s a familiar wall I find myself hitting. But, I’m also a stubborn wee fecker and, dammit, a legalist to boot. So deep breaths, and let’s tally-ho for week 5…

This is our most straightforwardly ‘green’ week, as we take seriously our commitment to creation care. What we do intentionally or indirectly to the physical world matters and it is as much a spiritual issue as an environmental one. Wendell Berry says,

‘The ecological teaching of the bible is simply inescapable: God made the world because He wanted it made. He thinks the world is good, and He loves it. It is His world; He has never relinquished title to it. And He has never revoked the conditions, bearing on His gift to us of the use of it, that obliges us to take excellent care of it. If God loves the world, then how might any person of faith be excused for not loving it or justified in destroying it?’

 A great place to start is to simply consume less. Of everything. But we will be specifically thinking about our most fragile resources – fossil fuels. We will also be trying to make better use of our waste and find ways to decrease our land-fill contribution.

 Rachel and I will be embracing 7 habits for a greener life this week. Which are:

  • Gardening: preparing our gardens for and planting our gardens with foodstuffs.
  • Composting and recycling. Most of us already do this but it easy to get lazy so we will really be trying to ramp this up this week
  • A tumble drier fast for the week (happy days, think we’ll also let the washing machine have a wee rest too)
  • One car-free day
  • A light-bulb survey- replacing with energy efficient
  • A crackdown on convenience consumables eg Kitchen roll, baby wipes, sandwich/freezer bags, foil, cotton wool. Toilet roll is happily exempt.
  • Buying local products to save on transportation fuel

Today has been designanted car-free, so we left the car at home this morning and walked to church. This would deserve a pat on the back were it not for the shameful truth that we drive to church every sunday and it is literally less than half a mile away. While we Mullans may feel smug about our recycling/composting/gardening efforts we are pretty disastrous when it comes to using our car. We are North Coast wusses and dive into our car at the slighest skiff of rain or breeze. Billy Connolly may say that there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong kind of clothing, but he has never tried to wrestle himself and 3 small children into wet gear. A vertible tangle of polymide. So we’ll be taking note of how necessary our car journeys are. One piece of particularly bad planning means that no-car-day coincides with very bare cupboards and a nappy crisis, so we are off on a family expedition to asda on scooters and double buggies to do the weekly shop. Father, forgive us for our sunday trading and please don’t let it rain….

7: Week four, Media

Two words for Media week:  not fun.

It wasn’t that it was more difficult than I thought, it was just a pain in the ass. It interrupted, in some ways even more than the others, the rhythm and the business of my days.

I was set up to have a bad week by the fact that 1) I am very tired, 2) it’s birthday month. The tiredness meant that I really just wanted to flop in front of something at the end of the day and I didn’t have the energy to use the screen-free time to knit, do jigsaws, journal, read or bake, all things I usually love to do. My va-va-voom has gone awol. So instead I just got grumpy and eventually settled down to read a book I wasn’t very interested in.

There must be something pretty frisky about the month of June, because we have a staggering amount of March birthdays amongst our friends and family. This necesitates much internet activity to find the right present at the right price and plan various birthday activities, so I now have a marathon buying session to do this weekend to make sure it all comes in time. Not helping the grumpiness.

We extended this week’s media fast to the kids, who, as you can imagine weren’t thrilled. The first 3 mornings were fairly painful for all of us as we tried to work out what to do with 3 very wide awake children at 7am that didn’t involve media. Who knew Lego was so noisy? In fairness to them, by the end of day 3 they stopped whinging and totally forgot about computers, the wii and dvds. Unlike their parents. Who at one point were cursing 7 and Jen hatmaker black and blue.

I think what I felt most about the week was a sense of isolation. In my world of stay-at-home-motherhood, the intenet can make you feel like you are engaging with the outside world, still a grown up who reads newspapers, blogs, shops, comments, albeit surrounded by a filthy kitchen and various wailing children. Which is fine, but at times becomes a poor substitute for real human engagement, whether that’s with other mums or even my own kids. It’s a very convenient rabbit hole, right there on my kitchen table and I escape down it a little more often than I should.

As with every week, we end with the question, ‘How should I now live?’. I think Jayber and I both recognise that we allow media to invade our lives without any boundaries. We seem to worry much more about what media does to our kids brains and hearts, strictly limiting their exposure, without any thought about our own. So, we are going to try and keep our media fixes to the weekend from now on. I’d like to try and keep the laptop off during the day, especially when the kids are about, and be more present to my present.

Goodbye, media week. You won’t be missed.


Week Four: Media

It’s T minus 6 and counting til it all goes very, very quiet.

From midnight tonight, the Jayspero household will be a screen-free zone. No movies or dvds, no wii, no iplayer (and the like), no social networks, no texting, no newspapers, no browsing.

Radio is allowed, voice calls are allowed, JM can use his computer to do work and we can access our e-mail.

I predict a riot…

..from the kids, who have been trained to turn the dvd player on each morning so that Mummy and Daddy can lie in bed for as long as possible (Our record is 8.25. On a school day). Oh wait, I’ll be rioting that one.

..from the husband who can not believe he won’t see Ireland play on Sunday (yes, JM, really).

I think we have a fairly deep addiction to the many forms of entertainment we access through screens in our house and I’m bracing myself for a few meltdowns, my own included. We don’t actually have tv, but this does not make us more virtuous, just sneakier. In reality we spend a surprising amount of our week watching tv shows and movies either online or from Lovefilm. We are fussy, we like quality shows, it’s something we do together, but it is still an awful lot of time in our week spent on entertainment. This doesn’t include the hours spent surfing, blog reading, blog writing, shopping and randomly reading on the internet.  The irony is that, bar their early morning fix, we are much stricter about how much screen-time the kids have than we are about our own. 

So this week will be a fairly radical lifestyle change and perhaps a bit of a wake up call. I can’t say any of us are particularly looking forward to it.

 Time to pull the plug. See you next Friday.


7: Possessions,the end

This has been a calm week, and a welcome one after the busyness of food and clothes.

Full of New Year energy, Jayber and I did a pretty thorough house declutter in January and took several car loads of stuff to various charity shops. So I wondered what we would have left to give this week. Turns out it was really very easy to find seven things each day to give away, and most of the days I was able to give away way over the allotted amount (except pesky decorative items, whose idea was that? Ah, yes. Mine) All told, I probably gave away 100-150 items this week and even then it hasn’t really hurt; that’s how much stuff I am surrounded by. 

It’s pretty cathartic, this move from excess to simplicty and our house feels a little bit lighter, as if it’s breathing easier without it all. It wasn’t bad stuff, it wasn’t crap, I could cheerfully have held on to some of it for a few more years without noticing. But I didn’t need it and I could probably do a whole other month of Possessions and still have a house full of more than I need and use. And, let’s face it, the fairies didn’t bring it in, it was all me.

This morning I dropped off a huge amount of stuff to Women’s Aid. They were so appreciative of all that we brought them and it was lovely to think about all the clothes,toys and household items that Rachel and I gathered up this week going to people who really need them and will be blessed by them. There’s something a little bit redemptive in that.