As I was kayaking home today (amazingly all the ice I had to plow through yesterday is gone today, despite a cold, overcast morning), I was reflecting on how there are many things I have learned this year beyond the type of stuff that school is supposed to teach you. These are things that I learned by testing myself, my limits, and my preconceived notions of what I "need". Some of the tests were on purpose, some where simply because I was lazy. To spare you from too much boring reading, below I present only three lessons I will be leaving with.
note: I am not trying to suggest that these things are especially related to "sustainability", earth-shattering, or even important, nor that what I learned applies to anyone other than myself, rather, I was reflecting on how I learned that some things I thought I did to satisfy some need, were simply a result of some cultural programming.
I don't need central lighting in my apartment.
This may sound like an insignificant thing, and it probably is in terms of how much energy is saved, but in terms of showing me that not everything I assumed was so is so, it is a huge discovery.
In the first week I arrived here, every one of the light-bulbs in my apartment burned out. I lived in the dark for three days. Then, one day I was walking past the home furnishings shop and remembered my problem. I stopped in, but not knowing which bulb would fit into which socket (I had neglected to check all socket sizes, but I did know that the desk lamp and the bed lamp had two different sized sockets, so I bought one small bulb and one large one (energy efficient of course). Sure enough, the desk lamp took a small bulb and the bed lamp took a large bulb. I made note of the fact that the ceiling, central lighting unit too a large bulb.
To make a long story short, every time I was down-town for the first three months, going into the light-bulb shop completely slipped my mind, or, when I did think of it, I was in too big of a hurry to stop. By the time I did make it in, I realized that I had lived without an extra light on in the room for over three months, and had never missed it.
At first this was a little confusing. After all, everybody knows that we need to have the entire room lit up when we are in it. How do we know this? Why, because there is a ceiling light fixture there dummy! Never the less, I decided that I would wait until I really felt that I needed it before I bought it. As you can guess. I don't need it. This was a major learning experience for me.
I don't need a bike.
When I first arrived, I stayed in Lund for a few days at my sister's place. I borrowed her bike to ride through the country to the next village. Her bike had no gears, a rickety old frame that made noises and shook, and very soft tires. I couldn't believe that she would have bought such a bike. I even considered buying her a used mountain-bike so she could get places like a civilized person.
Here in Karlskrona, I live nearby the school, about a ten minute bike ride with my fancy 18 or 15 or 21 (or whatever) speed mountain bike. Some people walked to school from their apartment downtown. I couldn't fathom how this was possible. Why would anyone walk 25 minutes when it only takes 10 minutes to ride. The need a bike. How did I know? Because everyone knows that time is the most valuable thing we have, and that means that everything should be done in the quickest, more efficient manner. Efficiency (or the illusion of it) is what our whole society is based on.
A while back I got a flat tire. I was too lazy to fix it, so I just thought "well, I guess I just wont be going into town until I get it fixed". After all, it's impossible to walk into town, right? Fortunately, that is also when my computer broke, and I was forced to go into town to look for new parts. So, I walked.
A strange thing happened that day. I realized that walking was nice. It took twice as long, but it was more exercise, and I was able to read while I walked, giving me forty extra minutes of reading time each round trip (just try reading as you speed down the street on a bike). I found myself going into town more than usual because I liked the walk. Just today I made the 1.5 hour walk to the nature reserve to pick up my kayak which I left there last night. And guess what? Nothing bad happened. I went against conventional wisdom that says that anything over ten minutes requires a bike or a bus or a car, and I was happier.
I have only used my bike once since I fixed the flat tire a few weeks ago.
I don't need oil to cook.
When I first arrived, I had no olive oil, but the iron frying pan I picked up from the red-cross had to be covered with oil (I found out that this too was false). I borrowed a bit of oil from a neighbor, oiled my pan, and made a mental note to buy olive oil next time I was at the supermarket.
Well, you probably know the outcome. For the longest time I forgot to even look at olive oil. When I finally did, I had gone so long without out, never having missed it, that I couldn't justify buying such a product in such heavy packaging, shipped from so far away, possibly, made with pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
I have gone months now without putting oil in any of my cooking, and I must say, I still manage make some awesome oil-less soups, curry, hummus, bean-delights, breads, etc... often things that need oil. How do I know? Because the recipe says so stupid!
What does this mean?
Does this mean that I will never use a ceiling lamp, cook with olive oil, or own a bike? Not at all, in fact, when I go back to Tokyo I'm sure I will do all three. What it does mean however, is that I am a little more aware of what I really need, and a little more likely to question my reason for buying something that someone else tells me I need .
One last thing...
The last lesson I learned today, is that no matter how hungry you are, it's not a good idea to eat half a kilo of dried appricots in one sitting... unless you like fruity tooty.