Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Notes on Aesthetics

I'll be the first to admit that I am a fairly shallow person. But wait - don't dismiss me right off the bat - please give me a chance to explain myself. Yes, I make decisions based on aesthetics. In fact, I would go so far as to say aesthetics are a primary driving force in my decision making process. But now I'm going to argue what some may cherish as the indefensible - that decisions based on aesthetics is a practical, and dare I say it, (yes, I dare) sustainable option.

No, I did not go crazy. No, I am not recommending that we all drop everything and go shopping at Neiman Marcus. Quite the opposite. Last night as I was walking back and forth from my neighbors' (aka landlords') cellar-style basement in the 3-hour process of doing several batches of laundry, I had the chance to think about, of all things, my lantern. Yes, I am one of those rare people that uses an old-fashioned kerosene lantern instead of a flashlight. Why? Well, to be completely honest, I think it's just the cutest thing in the world. Also, Flashlights are just so darn loseable!

Now, I freely admit that I chose a lantern over a flashlight (and, for that matter, old family photos over posters, rare and sentimental finds over silly tchotchkes, and second-hand cashmere sweaters over Target brand anything) for aesthetic reasons. Here then is the crux of my argument - things that are aesthetically valuable are not cheap. They are things we want to keep. Therefore, they create less trash by inspiring us to do what mama and papa always told us to do, which is to be respectful and caring towards our things. As you may or may not have caught on yet, this lesson that mama and papa taught you is an environmentally-conscious one as well as a fiscally responsible one. The problem is, cheap and disposable items that are not a pleasure to own and carry encourage wastefulness and disrespect. Why would I want to play nice with an ugly, plastic flashlight? Sure, a lantern is a more expensive up-front purchase than a flashlight, but I promise I will not buy another lantern for at least 20 years and will replace the glass if it breaks, and wicks and kerosene (cheaper than gas by the gallon at the local gas station) as needed. I know that the lantern will save me money and be much less wasteful in the environmental scheme of things. And I get the added pleasure of ice skating with a lantern in a skirt and long winter coat (just for kicks) and walking back and forth with baskets (yes, baskets) of laundry to hang for drying besides the stove. Now doesn't that just sound like a lovely life?

As for the distinction between second-hand and Target brand anything, please, I beg of you - Target brand (or Wal Mart, for that matter) looks cheap. It's horrific, it breaks, and it's mass-manufactured so everyone's seen it before. Nothing screams "abuse me!" quite as much as something that will happily break for you at a moment's notice, was so easy to come by, and whose maker you do not know. Now don't get me wrong, I shop at these places too - but it's for things like the cat's litter box. Instead, I peek into the second hand shops around the area (there are at least 4) at least a few times a month, and make a habit of constantly trading free things with friends and over freecycle. That way not only do I feel lucky to have found the beautiful things in my life, but I can replace my nice, wool sweater after i've patched it one too many times without buying a cheap, acrylic one. I look for things for the house and for myself all the time. The secret to thrifting is that you have to buy things as you see them and can afford to, which will not always be at the right time. If you're moving in 6 months, go ahead and buy that nice set of china. You'll regret it in 6 months if you don't (a note - this only applies to places where there is plenty of storage. Sorry, city folks).

If I've sold you on the lantern concept and there are no good barn sales around you (lanterns are a very rare find at thrift stores), you can find beautiful and affordable ones and all of their replacement parts (including to your old one gathering dust in the barn) here, at my favorite Mennonite-owned store: Lehman's

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