Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kermit the Frog’s Guide to Introspection

It’s not that easy bein’ green.” – Kermit the Frog

No, Kermit, it isn’t easy. Long before starting Beyond Junk, I've often contemplated the reasons that reusing, recycling, and buying handmade goods from independent artists are important to me. Once I realized that it would be a huge commitment to be ‘green’ and to stay ‘small’ I wanted to fully understand my motivations.

At the heart of it, I think my rationale is fairly basic. I want the world to be happier, healthier, and cleaner. I want to support other small businesses and independent artists. To live these values, I make small decisions every day that, to the best of my ability, fit within my idea of doing the right thing.

I buy second hand or upcycled clothes and furniture. I donate items I no longer need. I choose organic products whenever I can. I aim for a smaller carbon footprint when I travel, using public transportation if possible. I conserve electricity and try to waste as little as possible in general.

Tied into these decisions is the motivation for making upcycled jewellery and providing other artists with recycled supplies. As an artist, an environmentally friendly lifestyle would naturally seep into my work. But if I look harder, it’s something more than altruistic green-ness.

I see a world where, in spite of technology and achievement, life is getting harder. Our days are longer and more stressful. Many communities are becoming more economically polarized and many of us in our 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s are inheriting a cost of living that has skyrocketed while wages have not.

I can’t separate my motivations for what I make and create. I have both a desire to do no harm to a planet I deeply value, and a desire to protect myself from the emptiness of excess and the crippling debt of unchecked consumerism.

One day, if it’s viable, I would embrace the opportunity to earn a living with some combination of my shops and writing. At the moment, I work full-time, in addition to maintaining my two Etsy shops and continuing to write fiction. I’m not sorry for this – in fact, I find it empowering.

So now that the Internet makes it possible to act on your dreams and ideas, on a small scale, on your own time, it’s virtually irresistible to at least dabble in self employment. I’ve noticed a lot of people feel the same way.
People who study society have credited the economy with encouraging people to cut back and make things themselves. Ask most crafters, though, and you’ll be told that a lot of the rise in the popularity of arts and crafts is thanks to the Internet.
Are most of these new crafters hobbyists? Or are they all starting small businesses? And I wonder, would it be viable for everyone who wants a small artisan business to have one and earn a successful living with it? From a business perspective, I’m sure the answer is no. But will we start looking at these issues more from an environmental point of view?

With so many economies relying on mass production, what will we replace it with? If we learn to consume less, what will we do instead? If we appreciate handmade over mega brands, what would life look like for us all?

These are big questions and I don't have complete answers. I think the most important choice is to start walking in the right direction and hope that the path stabilizes as we go.