I have a veritable Christmas tree of self-delusions, each one a sparkly ornament that I take down, gaze fondly at, stroke lovingly, and hang back up when I’m done with it.
Perhaps my biggest and most beloved delusion is that I’m a minimalist. Of course, that’s the last thing I am, more of a maximalist. Minimalism is less chic-ly known as poverty. The global standard for that? Living on $3.20 per day. Or less. Is your average living expense $5.50 per day? You’re no minimalist, and in many countries you no longer even qualify as especially poor. Kind of moving up, sorta.
Absolute minimalism, a/k/a extreme poverty, where you subsist on the narrow black line between life and death, begins at $1.90 a day. Are you rich enough to support yourself with expenditures between $10-$20 per day? Then you are squarely in the global middle class. More than $50/day? Globally you’re a high earner at $18k per year.
So anyway, I’m no minimalist. Yet.
However, I’m not exactly awash in things, which people sometimes confuse with minimalism. One of the things I’m not awash in is housing. Later this month I’ll be officially homeless. Now please don’t misunderstand. It’s temporary (maybe), it’s by choice, and I’m not sure if you’re really homeless as long as you have a trick bikepacking tent that cost nearly $500, a JetBoil stove, and, uh, a credit card that works. Also, once my bike trip ends, if my bike trip ends, I may decide to pay for a fixed abode again. Henry Thoreau could only hack the beauty of solitude for two years, two months, and two days before he abandoned Walden Pond, never to return.
Part of elected homelessness has meant gradually getting rid of various things, mostly by Craigslist. The last big thing with which I parted was my fridge. I don’t think Thoreau had one of those.
For the most part, the departure of each thing, be it a couch or a bed or a dresser, has been accompanied by the feeling of a giant thing being lifted off my nuts. And that feeling of relief, of being unencumbered by yet another thing, has been wonderful. Do I really need ten suits? That would be “nope.” Can all my clothes fit into a medium-sized cardboard box? That would be “yep.”
But when the guy lugged my fridge out of the apartment, well, things got real. What was I gonna do with all my fresh food? Of course “all my fresh food” meant a couple jars of starter, a tub of ice cream, some bacon, eggs, milk, salad dressing, a few vegetables, and some parsley.
Naturally, I ate it all. Which felt pretty good!
But after that the raw panic set in. The only things left to eat were things. Over the last year I’ve whittled my grocery shopping down (so I told myself) to only having a couple of days’ worth of food, but when Mr. Frigidaire left, I realized that “couple days’ worth of food” was indeed an ornament on the Christmas tree of delusions.
So now all the fresh food I eat isn’t refrigerated. No more chicken sitting around for four or five days. No more gallon-milk purchases. No more week’s-worth-of-carrots.
In synch with those living on $1.90 per day, I have to figure out what I’m going to eat tomorrow today, because if I don’t there isn’t going to be any eating tomorrow. Things get focused and the extraordinary wasteful lives we lead comes more into focus. For example, at the store yesterday I saw a guy loading his cart with a dozen frozen dinners while I eyed, with equally greedy eyes, an onion and a potato. And frankly, I think my dinner was better than his.
Are refrigerators a political issue? They kind of are. Setting aside the cost of the thing, you spend about $200/year to run it if it’s an older model. Newer ones cost as little as $40/year, but that’s offset by the high cost of the fridge itself. So in addition to the costs of ownership and operation, which are pretty tolerable when compared to, say, SRAM e-tap, you have to consider the real cost of the fridge, which is all the shit in it you never eat and ultimately throw away.
Every couple of years my mom used to clean out her freezer. It was always a game of “What is that?” as she’d haul out some freezer-burned hunk of nastiness and toss it in the trash. The back corners of her veggie bin were also ripe places for fermentation of all sorts. Nor was she an outlier. Americans waste a pound of food a day through spoilage. That turns out to a whopping 150,000 tons of food per year, almost as much as the average cyclist wastes in out-of-fashion kits that get tossed into the dumpster, or worse, pushed to the back of the kit drawer never to see light of day again.
Cost-wise, though, an Igloo cooler is even more costly. That’s because in SoCal a bag of ice runs about $4 and lasts for only two days, three at the most, totting up over $700/year if you’re going to refrigerate a few food items with ice.
Now that the fridge has gone, the panic has receded after less than a week. I’m shopping day-by-day. And I’m eating way less. And I’ve lost five pounds, which I’m not sure is the greatest prep for an extended bike ride up the coast. More than the five pounds, though, I’ve lost the weight of all those things I never liked, never really needed, and never really wanted anyway.
But still … not having a tub of ice cream to wash my hair with at 3:00 AM … that, I miss.
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