I’ve long believed that if you’re not angry, you’re not paying enough attention. That applies to almost everything — inequality in the workplace, unequal distribution of wealth, the silencing of oppressed voices. You don’t even have to think that hard to get angry.
Understand that I have always been a happy and polite person. When I say I was “angry,” I mean I have long refused to accept over-simplified “solutions” to all of life’s problems. I could never just “Life Laugh Love” my way through a world that is filled with so much animosity. I have always had a hard time believing that when I reuse a water bottle, I’m part of a global movement that makes up for all the resources corporations have drained us of. And I certainly never found myself comforted by Facebook memes that remind me that at 23, Tina Fey was working at a YMCA and Oprah had gotten fired from her first job — not when I know people who got laid off from their dream jobs at 23 and spent the next decade working on an assembly line for minimum wage.
In many ways, I still think those things. But lately, a small voice has emerged, and I can’t tell if it’s because I’m too tired to stay cynical, or if it’s because I’m actually growing.
It started when I was working on pitches for TFD a few weeks ago. I’d scrolled past yet another video on my social feeds from a vlogger detailing how she lived zero-waste for the last year. After a few seconds of watching her detail how she makes her own soaps, puts everything in mason jars, and apparently spends 12 hours a day meticulously milking almonds, my fingers were ready for some furious typing. My words were full of vitriol. My title was intentionally harsh: “Why zero-waste is useless hipster bullshit.”
Then I couldn’t get past the opening paragraph.
The ideas were all there: that zero-waste lifestyles were only achievable for a select few (influencers who made comfortable off of their monetized ~lifestyle blog~ while working from home), that the impractical movement inherently shames people who survive off of canned and boxed foods and, most importantly, that putting something in a mason jar instead of a plastic bag isn’t going to stop global warming.
But a different phrase echoed in my head: You have become a cynical monster.
I tried to follow the thread in reverse and figure out when and where my insistent need to be “woke” crossed over into an inability to just be happy for people making positive changes. I tried to figure out when I went from a defensive player to an offensive player — when I went from being appropriately guarded to being too jaded to see actual good ideas.
I not only did a hard “delete” on my draft, I spent the next week trying to actually take some of the zero-waste advice. Some waste was unavoidable, but when I started having to be conscious of it, I realized just how much waste I produced, and how it affected my wallet.
I started taking lunch from home every single day, eliminating take-out even as a “treat.” The few times I went to a café, I got my coffee in a mug and didn’t get any wrapped snacks. I took my own bags to the grocery store and took a box full of jars to the bulk store. I stopped buying instant-gratification items like bath bombs and spunky feminist enamel pins. Honestly, it added up.
But this isn’t just a zero-waste story.
I’ve waged a war against depression for the better part of the last decade. In many ways, my righteousness against cutesy inspirations or “solutions” to every issue (from personal finance to the environment) helped me feel more alive. It helped me feel awake.
Every time some adorable 22-year-old Professional Minimalist told me that I could save so much money if I just got rid of everything and lived out of a suitcase, I had a personal essay going in my head about all the reasons she was wrong. Every time I read a listicle that said I could travel to Reykjavík (and somehow become a better person for it) by taking leftovers for one month instead of getting takeout, I said “fuck it” and marched around the corner to get a burrito. How could these people possibly think that my semi-regular burritos (or lattés, or packs of cigarettes, or whatever your vice is) are what’s making me poor?
But it was only recently that I realized how tired it made me. I can’t spend my energy getting mad at some hipster Insta-couple for living in a Tiny House, nor can I keep saying “the world is fucked and I’m broke anyway” as an excuse to buy that coffee. I can’t just look at some Meal Prep goddess and snark back, “We can’t all be neurotypical, Karen!” and feel special when I didn’t even try.
Letting go of the inclination toward criticism didn’t turn me into a seemingly vapid idealist, but there were indeed some great consequences. When I decided to limit daily vices like Starbucks, even though I didn’t magically start making a higher salary, I actually did see the effect it had on my bank account. When I started adopting some minimalist habits in a proactive effort to reduce clutter, guess what? I also went months without buying a single impulse-purchase home accent, extra journal, soy wax candle or any of those other adorable instant regrets. In fact, there were stores I used to frequent that I stopped going to altogether.
Even more proactive tasks like bullet journaling, meal-planning, and crafting aesthetically pleasing lists have risen in my esteem because they’ve paid off. Sure, I still think bullet journaling can be inherently performative, but ever since I started using those tools to track things like zero-spend days, plan my dinners (and therefore groceries) ahead of time, and create more structured scheduling to my activities, I’ve seen the value — an average of just under $200 extra per month. That amount will surely be different for everyone, but my thesis remains: just because something is Insta-cute doesn’t mean it’s useless.
At the very least, I can’t take that idealism away from other people — if the advice about Tina Fey working at the YMCA job is helping someone get through their workday, I’m not going to stomp on that. Does it mean I’m going to invest in a bunch of “Live Laugh Love” decor and suddenly turn off my bullshit detector? Not for a second. You can’t just close eyes that have been open. But I am keeping closer tabs on the walls I’ve built up.
I don’t want them to become a box before I know it.
Bree Rody-Mantha is a business journalist and dance teacher living in Toronto. In her spare time, she enjoys sport climbing, lifting and running the vegan food blog, Urban Garlic. Follow her on Twitter here.
Image via Unsplash