I can flush again. It is amazing how big the little things are when you miss them for a while. A working toilet, quiet time, water from a faucet, heat and light with the flick of a switch. Many people spend a lot of money on big things, and without getting the satisfaction that comes from a return of a vital part of life. The law of diminishing returns detours many financial plans. The frugal life, the minimalist’s life, takes the seemingly silly step of celebrating the little things as they are, without asking for embellishment, and saving money in the process. For years I lived such a life by choice. Now I live it by necessity. As wages stagnate and benefits fade, large segments of the population are learning the same lessons.
There are grand houses with temples to water. Master baths take on the scale of their own wings of a house. Tens of thousands are spent on expensive materials like marble or etched glass. Fixtures run hundreds or thousands of dollars for the simple act of turning water on and off. Phenomenal remodels don’t change the fact that people are human. The food that came into the house via the kitchen, and was served in the dining room and breakfast nook, gets flushed out the bottom of the house via gallons of water. (I salute those of you with composting or incinerating toilets.)
I got a new toilet. This month I’ll celebrate my eighth year in this house, the only house that’s truly felt like my home. It was built in 1964. I don’t know for sure, but a lot of the appliances and fixtures look original. Renovations were, and are, in my plans. But, I was waiting for sufficient funds. Oh well, the wait continues. The toilet always had a few quirks. It was old. The water was hard. Its life was possibly hard as well. Before I bought it, this house spent decades as a vacation cottage. Strange things happen on vacations. Every year the toilet flushed less efficiently. A few years ago, a couple of flushes for required for every visit. A few months ago, sometime during the day, the toilet would empty the bowl at least once. A few weeks ago, I was simply glad that at least nothing solid was left behind, usually. The trend was not good.
Those of you with septic systems understand the possible problems. Solutions can cost tens of thousands of dollars. The closer the problem was to the bathroom, the cheaper the fix. I was lucky. Something, sometime fell into the toilet and blocked a channel. A service call confirmed that whatever was in there was as hard as a rock, and could be one. I don’t go chucking rocks down the toilet, and I doubt my guests do, but there have been parties and who knows what was bumped and fell in. About a hundred dollars and a couple of hours later, flush. Whew.
Remodeling that bathroom would cost a few thousand dollars, and wouldn’t create the same level of relief as the installation of a hundred dollar toilet.
Travelers, adventurers, explorers appreciate coming home to faucets that produce clean water, electricity that is always available, and a house that is warm and dry regardless of the weather.
Those simple things cost a small fraction of what people spend on houses. Transportation doesn’t require the fanciest sound system. Communications don’t necessitate smartphones. Entertainment doesn’t require electricity.
People are intrigued by tiny houses, even if they don’t plan to buy one. Mass transit, bicycles, and walking are gaining in popularity even with declining gas prices because people are recognizing the benefits of quiet time and exercise. (Though there probably will be a blip with this particular plunge in prices.) Flip phones are back in style, because smartphones do too much and cost too much, in both money and time. Distractions are intoxicating, but the wasted time is convincing people to kick the habit. Entertainment has never been more available, and yet, there’s probably nothing on (especially now that Ferguson and Colbert are off the air.)
Living simply seemed monastic but our planet’s resource limits and our population growth means getting by with less is becoming a necessity, not a choice. Getting by with 10% less, then 10% less, then 10% less, will be painful. Do that ten times and you’re getting by on 65% less, not 100% (compound interest in reverse.) If, however, you lose 90%, and get back up to 35% (the same point as the ten 10% losses) there is a potential 350% increase. What a gift!
As I am chronicling on my other blog, Pretending Not To Panic, there is good news too. Minimalism is becoming easier, and better. Projection screens that fit in your pocket (come on MicroVision.) Lights that last longer and use less energy (Yay, LEDs.) Electric autonomous cars that are so smart and efficient that you may not have to buy one; just call it up and it delivers itself like a taxi. Disconnecting from the complexities of the grid are becoming easier as power, water, and communications become decentralized. Even waste treatment is decentralizing. Septic systems have always been decentralized, but even those expensive and complex systems have alternatives like the composting and incineration options.
I continue to recover from my financial upset (understatement, oy), and am not comfortable yet; but along the way, each bit of recovery is celebrated more than it ever was when everything was simply assumed to work without a thought.
Our society is in various stages of denial and adaptation. Most of the hurts are of the 10% less kind. I don’t wish anyone to have to go through the 90% drop, but as we work through losses we may better appreciate the recoveries. Little things matter more now, and that’s good.
Now, pardon me as I want to use the toilet.
As I sit here in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire…chair not bathroom fixture…on my visit to Africa, Tom’s post resonates strongly. A few days ago in Dakar, Senegal mechanism in the toilet in my hotel room broke. Someone from the hotel came to look and try and fix it.
But it really was dead.
The solution? He gave me a bucket until the technician (never knew there were toilet technicians) could come and fix it…in a day or two.
Seemed reasonable to him so what could I do but laugh. And no, no other room offered, no room discount. Just a smile and the good news that it would be fixed before too long.
Same hotel where you can lock your room and then notice that the curtain over a window from room to hall actually just covers a window frame devoid of window. I suppose the theory is that it’s a window not a door so who would consider sliding through it to borrow some of my things.
Much of Africa does give you a different perspective on what’s important.