By Jennifer Clark –
I’ve been living in Calgary since the beginning of December because my tiny house trailer project still needs a bathroom. Now that I’m here, I’ve found some great reasons to stay for a few years. I have family here, and there is inspiring work for me to do helping people grow food.
In my five months so far in Calgary, I’ve already noticed that living in a city poses a number of challenges to simple living. The pressure to consume is absolutely everywhere, and like-minded minimalists or downsizers are a rarer breed, or just harder to find. I’m not sure why it is so much harder to live simply here, but I swear, it is.
Despite (or maybe because of) this, there area number of different resources available to help people downsize, live a simpler lifestyle, or exist on limited incomes. While some of these might not be accessible in a rural community like Williams Lake, they might provide inspiration for projects in the Cariboo. Some methods of minimizing actually originated in rural farming communities and could be revived by enterprising Cariboo residents.
Recently I was searching the web for simple living resources in Calgary, and I came across several co-operative living projects. The general idea behind co-operative living is that individuals, couples, or families each have their own living space (a small house or condo) on the co-op-owned property, but there is also a central co-op building where studios, workshops, a large kitchen, and meeting spaces are located. This can eliminate the need for artists or craftspeople to purchase equipment they require for their projects. Tools for repairs and maintenance of co-op buildings are bought collectively and used by members when needed.
Co-ops can be great, or a challenge to navigate, but you don’t need to be a co-op member to do this kind of thing. A neighbourhood where my mother once lived had a lawnmower and a snow blower that were informally available for neighbourhood homeowners who helped pay for its maintenance. I have often borrowed tools from my neighbours or shared seeds and garden supplies with them.
Craft guilds often operate on this same principal; establishing a shared workspace with equipment that is too large, expensive, or infrequently used for individual members to own. In Williams Lake, the Central Cariboo Art Centre is a fantastic resource for accessing equipment, workspace, and skilled teachers in a variety of mediums, housing many groups including a Spinner, Weaver’s and Fibre Artists Guild and the Cariboo Potters Guild.
When I was passing through Salmon Arm recently, I noticed that the Shushwap area has a toy library for children. Parents can donate outgrown toys to the library for other children to use, and sign out different ones as their kids’ interests change.
Tool libraries offer members affordable access to shared tools—not just wood-working or home renovation tools, but also metal working, sewing machines, auto mechanic, or bike repair tools. They often also provide affordable access to workshops on how to use the tools they have, and how to do minor renovation projects like tiling, plumbing, or minor car or bike repairs. This type of co-operation can be followed right back to its origin in farming communities who used to share large machinery they only needed infrequently. No need for each farm to own something when one machine can serve the purpose of everyone. Tools can also be rented from hardware stores and rental companies.
If your idea of downsizing involves getting rid of your vehicle, there are national, commercial, car share programs like Car2Go, or on a smaller scale, some areas like Nelson, BC, have independent car, or ride share programs of their own. The common thread in all of these resources is that they are part of a larger community that exists to support you in finding ways to live the way you wish. Connecting with the community you are in is invaluable if you want to be successful at downsizing. When I got downsized, I sold most of my things through local Facebook buy and sell groups, Kijiji, and even the humble garage sale. In the process, I met some wonderful people, got inspired even more by their stories and ideas of how they would use my things, and hopefully, managed to inspire them as well.
While living simply focuses on reducing the amount of possessions we have, ensuring that the items we do buy are ones that are going to last years, or even lifetimes, is also important. By buying carefully we purchase fewer things, less frequently, and produce less waste. A good place to begin with this is a website called “Buy Me Once”. Check it out.
Next issue we’ll look at resources for helping businesses keep it simple.
Jennifer Clark grew up on her family’s horse and cattle ranch in the East Kootenays. She has studied sustainability issues and urban planning at Selkirk College in Castlegar, BC and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. She is a wildland firefighter, a fanatical gardener, and has worked and taught urban gardening at garden nurseries in Metro Vancouver. Jennifer is also a talented potter, who occasionally teaches classes. On a nice day, she can be found outside, gardening, hiking, skiing, or if she’s lucky, kayaking in a borrowed kayak.