Ideas and inspiration for efficient living.

Becoming an ethical buyer

Have you ever considered the ethics involved in the products you buy? Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the amount of human injustice that goes on behind the scenes of many products found on store shelves?

Recently I watched the BBC documentary “Chocolate: The Bitter Truth”. It wasn’t particularly shocking because I had already seen the CBC documentary “Big Sugar” about sugar plantation slavery, so I had already been made aware of similar work conditions. The more distressing aspect was the child trafficking involved in cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast and Ghana. In north Burkina Faso, boys and girls as young as eight years old are kidnapped or sold by (mostly male) money hungry family members. They are made to work without pay 10-12 hour days with dangerous machetes and harmful pesticides, harvesting cocoa pods. They cannot go to school.

These children are harvesting the cocoa that will be used in the Hershey Chipits that melt in your cookies, the chocolate mousse cake at the restaurant, the hot cocoa at the coffee shop, the chocolate bar you scarf down when the craving hits, the Halloween candy your children bring back in their pumpkin. It’s everywhere and it comes at a high price to the children at the root of the cocoa processing chain.

How can I consume cocoa with a clean conscience?

I could stop buying cocoa and chocolate products. A great psychological battle would have to be fought (yes, I have a chocolate addiction). But it is indeed a small battle to fight in comparison to what child slaves must endure.

There is also the fair trade cocoa option. It is committed to preventing child labor that doesn’t prohibit schooling. (There is a flaw: local cocoa producers can still use child labor, but they have to hide it well. A 6 month suspension follows if they are caught.)

So now I’ve talked about cocoa. I could afford to buy fair trade cocoa at its higher price tag – if cocoa was all I was concerned about.

I said I watched Big Sugar. Large corporations control plantations in the Caribbean. Workers are not slaves, but they do not make enough to get by. When they are hurt on the job, they get no compensation whatsoever.

The good news is that sugar is also available in the fair trade organic version. The bad news is that it also carries the heavy price tag. Okay, I could deal with paying almost double for my sugar. I try to use it moderately anyway.

So now we move on to meat. I’ve seen Food, Inc. And Meet Your Meat. I know how unethically and unhealthily my meat is treated. Fortunately, I can find a local, kind farmer who will supply me with stress-free hormone beef or chicken – at a premium. Local, grass-fed beef never goes on sale. I’ve gone veg before and I grew tired of the beans/tofu meal choices. My husband is also a weight lifting carnivore who craves his meat. Going totally meatless is therefore not a viable option for us.

Food production is not the only thing we buy that denies basic rights to humans and humane treatment to animals. We’ve probably all heard of children working in sweatshops and countless adults who work long days in toxic and dangerous work environments. There’s a reason why “Made in China” is not a compliment.

I now ask: how is it ever possible to be a responsible, ethical buyer when almost everything we buy is tainted with blood and tears?

How do I keep living with people around me who don’t really care about these things? “Even if you buy fair trade, it’s a drop in the bucket.” “It’s not something you can change, only big corporations and government can make a difference, and that’s not going to happen.” “Maybe it’s not that bad for the workers in that country, the culture is different.”

And at last: if I want to buy everything fair trade and organic, how in the world do I afford it? It’s no secret that it costs significantly more.

I discussed this issue on an online forum and received wise replies. One woman advised to start with ONE change. One that doesn’t feel overwhelming. And you stick with that change until it doesn’t even feel like you’re doing anything different. Then you move on to the next thing, and the next thing.

It’s not my job to take the world’s burden on my shoulder. If it’s too heavy, it’s that I wasn’t meant to carry it, or at least ALL of it.

So I’ve started buying fair trade sugar and cocoa. I have also decreased my intake of these products, so that I only buy a certain amount every month and it doesn’t break the bank.

We had already ordered pastured hormone and antibiotic free beef from a local farmer, but now we need to buy some more. And I need to find free range chickens.

We’ve already been buying free range eggs for years now, a local farmer delivers them to our door (God bless her!).

So, small steps. If everyone changed one thing they consume to fair trade (and organic if possible), I’m sure it would make a difference.

What can you change today?



The lesson

I just read Ann Voskamp’s post, What to do in hard times.

It’s hard not to cry when reading it. And her previous post, What a parent wants to say when a child leaves.

My children are very young, but I seem to have a somewhat firm grasp that they will grow up VERY fast and will leave home before I know.

Last night, my oldest was sick. Sick enough for dad to take him to the ER. I stayed home with the youngest, and tried to sleep. My thoughts whirled and spun around, trying to hope for the best for my son. I couldn’t help but go to the very dark place of “What if I ever lost him?”

Guilt poured over me. I didn’t spend enough time with him. I declined his requests to play way too often. I was too harsh, too critical more times than I can count.

I thought about how this high needs baby and now spirited child has taught me more in his 4.5 years on earth than I learned in the 20some years before his birth. He pushed me beyond my limits into growth more than anyone – even a husband – could ever do.

I regretted all the times I thought “Why is he SO MUCH?”.

The last 48 hours have been really quiet in the house. I’m surprised to notice that I don’t like the quiet. I want the rambunctious, loud running around. I crave the energy that this crazy child brings.

He’s going to be fine, he has an average childhood illness. But once again, he’s taught me a lesson. I’ll take the good that he brings. I’ll take the bad. Because one day, he’ll wave goodbye and I’ll be thankful for ALL the memories.

What is a lesson your child has taught you?

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Small is relative

I live in a small house. It’s 648 square feet, no basement. We’ve been living in it for 4.5 years, right before my first child was born. We now have two children and are expecting a third one this summer.

By most North Americans’ standards, we can’t fit in that house.

We’ve always made the restricted space work, but with 5 people soon to be living in it, I let myself start to believe that we couldn’t possibly stay here any longer.

We put our house up for sale. It’s not the first time it’s been for sale and all the potential buyers we’ve ever had tell us that it’s too small – even for a couple or a single person. “Our furniture is too big to fit in here!”

I started to look at my house with contempt. I was uncomfortable and becoming unhappy.

Then someone posted about the Innermost House on Facebook: Pictures http://tinyhouseblog.com/timber-frame/dianas-innermost-house/ and video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDbrUk2xYBo

This house is 144 square feet and two people live in it! I’ve seen many tiny houses before, but this one charmed me by its warmth and simplicity.

My small house suddenly felt BIG.

I decided that I would make our small house work until it sold, no matter how long it takes. I decluttered and put up pretty things in every room.

I actually like making my house efficient, it’s like solving a puzzle for me. How can I fit everything we need and store it in a convenient manner?

I also like that we can’t accumulate stuff. There’s just no space to put it!

And it’s also cheap to live here. How many people have a home worth what a decent car costs?

My small house led me to ask a few questions:

Are North Americans living in excessively large houses? Is all the space truly needed?

Are large houses leading to more consumerism, more stuff needed to fill every room?

The average home size in the United States has grown by 655 square feet (the size of my house!) in the last 35 years, while family size has decreased from 3.1 to 2.6.

Larger homes require more upkeep, more expenses. They consume more energy and materials.

Are large homes socially and environmentally responsible?

While I wait for a slightly larger home, I’m glad I have an Ikea worthy home.

Are you satisfied with your living space? 

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Practice gratitude

As I was making my life list for 2012, I realized that my year was going to be monopolized by one thing: being pregnant for the first half the year, and having a newborn for the second half.

We also put our house up for sale, so we will hopefully move into a bigger home and buy a larger vehicle to fit our family of five.

These short things on paper will take up most of my time and energy in real life. That thought frustrated me a lot. I felt like it killed the efficient person in me. “What, “just” having a (third) baby? “Just” moving? No half marathon? No overachieving book reading challenge? That’s not very productive in the grand scheme of life!”

Thankfully, I came upon the Joy Dare. The idea is to make a list of 1000 things that you are grateful for in 2012.

So I threw out my goals list for 2012 and made a new one: write three things that I am grateful for everyday.

Instead of looking at sheer numbers to evaluate productivity (x numbers of projects completed, x amount of dollars earned), I will add up the wonderful things in my life that make me grateful. The cheesy way to put it is that I’m literally counting my blessings.

When I did that, you know what happened? My outlook changed. Instead of being resentful that I was basically “just” going to be a mother this year, I looked forward to enjoying 2012 as a very busy mother. By choosing to practice gratitude, I became peaceful and accepting. And isn’t that the most pleasant road to efficiency?

Are you making a gratitude list this year?

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Long-term and short-term lists

Do you have a life list?

A life list, also known as a bucket list, is a list of things that you would like to do before you die. It can consist of things as big or as trivial as you’d like. It can be as long as you’d like (100 things to do before you die – google that) or as short as you’d like (5 top things).

Like I’ve said, I like lists, so making an exhaustive one wasn’t difficult. My husband on the other hand, loathes lists, and he only has 3-4 things in his head that he’ll like to do one day, with no specific timeline.

The problem with life lists is that they can easily turn into a piece of paper tucked away somewhere while you hope that the things on it will magically happen “someday”. However, it’s time to turn them into manageable pieces that you will actually follow through on.

This is where you take your life list, and make a 5 year list. You’d be surprised how much you can get done in 5 years once you actually make a plan.

Then you make your 2012 list. What can you work on doing this year? Again, you’d be surprised how much you can fit in.

And slowly, you’ll be checking off your life list, glad that you’re doing something fun and worthwhile with your life.

Are you working on your lists for 2012? List your top 5 for this year.

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Outlining priorities and goals

What did you do in 2011? What will you be doing in 2012?

Don’t know?

Here’s an idea. Make a list of priorities.

I’ve been a fan of life lists for years now. Well, not just life lists, lists in general. They help me stay focus, organized and efficient.

Every January, I make a list of priorities and goals that I want to strive for in the new year. I’m not talking about resolutions, which die off within a week, like memberships at the gym on January 12th, but realistic, precise objectives that you actually make a plan to attain.

Last year I divided my list by specific areas I wanted to focus on: Me, My Husband, My Children, Work/House and Family/Friends.

Here is a peak at my 2011 list:

  1. Exercise 3 hours/week
  2. Run 3 races
  3. Eat a balanced diet (basically reduce my sugar intake)
  4. Read 36-52 books
  5. Knit myself a scarf
  6. Raise 600$ for a cleft lip surgery for a child with Show Hope
Now that the year is almost over, I can take a look back at my list and see how I did:
  1. I ran a lot from May to September
  2. I ran 5 races, including my first half-marathon. I’m very proud of that!
  3. “Balanced diet” is a very subjective term, but I did just okay. Until I actually limited the amount of sugar I buy every month and switched to fair-trade, it was hard to control my intake. I needed a concrete restriction.
  4. I read 28 books, I would have reached at least 36 if my brain was not stolen by a tiny uterus dweller starting in October!
  5. I finished my scarf in time for winter.
  6. I raised 375$ for Show Hope, so not quite the 600$ I was aiming for. When I set the 600$ goal, I knew it was pretty high and I didn’t make a strategy to get there. I kind of waited around, hoping an opportunity would show up. Next year, I need to make a specific plan as to how I’m going to raise that money.

What I have learned from my successes and failures: some goals were realistic, some were idealistic, and one I know I didn’t work enough at.

As I make my list for 2012, I will pull out my life list and my 5 year list. More on that in the next post.

What about you? How was 2011 for you? Did you have objectives? Did you reach them? What worked, what didn’t?

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What’s a well-run life?

A well-run life is a life managed efficiently.

How does one do that?

I have come up with 25 points that contribute to efficient living:

  1. Be present in the moment and appreciate your current state.
  2. Be generous with your time and resources. Generosity keeps us selfless and it always comes back to bless us again.
  3. Get emotionally healthy. Let go of negative emotions (resentment, negativity, depression, bitterness, anger). Build healthy boundaries. Forgive.
  4. Nurture relationships. Value family and friends. Give your time to them. Try to speak their love language.
  5. Actively choose every aspect of your life. Your work, how you spend your free time, what you eat, how you take care of your health. Choose what you let in: tv, movies, reading.
  6. Read. Reading opens up the mind and inspires.
  7. Let go of judgement. It only harms to judge and helps no one. It shuts people out and closes doors.
  8. Leave a legacy. Make sure your life has an impact beyond your own person.
  9. Be grateful. For your health, your family, your friends, abundance, healthy children, a healthy marriage.
  10. Be respectful. Be considerate of the environment and others.
  11. Know yourself. Know what you are good at, and inversely what you are not good at, your unique gifts, your personality type. THEN use your life to bless others.
  12. Be physically active. Pick at least one activity you enjoy and DO IT! It does good to your body and your mind
  13. Let go of stress.
  14. Appreciate beauty. In music, art, nature, literature, architecture, in people. There is beauty all around, open your eyes to see it!
  15. Value spirituality. We are more than dust There is a great treasure in discovering what transcends us.
  16. Don’t be afraid to go against the flow. The secret to a fulfilling life lies in making unconventional choices.
  17. Value time and relationships above status and wealth.
  18. Be informed. Ignorance is a poor excuse for inaction or mediocre choices.
  19. Encourage others to live an efficient life.
  20. Apply the Golden Rule. Treat others like you would like to be treated.
  21. Stop wasting time. Evaluate your activities and choose whether they accomplish a higher purpose or if you are just being a a couch potato.
  22. Use routines and scheduling if they help you live be efficient.
  23. Be confident. Don’t apologize for who you are, be proud, you are unique!
  24. Welcome change. Change is uncomfortable, but it’s the only way growth can come.
  25. Live simply. This can have a different meaning for different people, but basically, don’t accumulate stuff and activities to fill a void inside. Stuff and busyness do not make you happy. Let go of clutter in your home. Budget efficiently; reduce unnecessary spending. Be content with what you have.

And now, add your own!

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You can’t change the world

Have you ever said to yourself, “I want to change the world”?

Did you do it? Did you change the world? How did you do it?

Or did you come up with fifteen reasons and excuses not to? Did you let other people tell you it wasn’t possible AND you listened to them?

From a very early age, I knew I wanted to change the world. I read biographies about important people and told myself I would be like them. One day, a book would have to be written about me because I did something BIG.

I knew I wanted to do something to help children. Depending on the day, I wanted to be a pediatrician, sometimes in my own country, more times in a foreign poor country, almost always in Asia. As I grew older, I thought I would work in an orphanage, again somewhere in Asia. One thing I knew for sure, since I was eleven years old, was that I wanted to adopt a Chinese girl (or South East Asia). That desire came after a saw a documentary on the abandoned girls in China. At that moment, I knew that when my time would come to be a mom, I would give a forever family to one of those orphan girls.

I went to a college that was very big on the “go and change the world” motto. So I kept on believing I would, once I graduated.

Graduation came, I got married, got a job as a secretary while my husband was in school and I waited for my chance to change the world.

It never came. I sat in a lonely basement office 40 hours a week, for 3 years, hoping for a plane ticket to take me to the slums of India or the streets of South Korea.

I finally realized that I wouldn’t be changing the world – well, at least, not going anywhere in the world! – and that I had to settle for what I had.

In the meantime, I became a mom and thought that I’d put in all my time and energy into my child, because when you care for a child, you essentially change the world, right? I totally believe that’s true, but eventually, I wanted more, but didn’t feel there was anything more to get.

Enter a book called “The Art of Non-Conformity” by Chris Guillebeau. It was lent to my husband by a friend. I read any book that comes into my house, and the title seemed like it was written just for me, since I tend to conform to to few mainstream ideas. Here is the tagline from the book: “You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to. You can do good things for yourself and make the world a better place at the same time. Here’s how to do it.”

After I read this book, I felt like I was given a new life. I felt like Guillebeau had “given me permission” to dream again about changing the world. He described “changing the world” as “leaving a legacy”. That is what I’ve always wanted to do: to impact someone so profoundly that the course of that person’s life, and therefore the world, is never the same.

I will share in more detail how I expect to change the world specifically in a later entry, so stay tuned.

If you currently believe that you can’t change the world, if you’ve let the voices of normalcy tell you to just be a good person and do your thing, then I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to believe the lies. You can go ahead and dream big.

So I ask again:

Have you ever said to yourself, “I want to change the world”?

Will you do it?

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An introduction

It’s a pleasure to finally launch online! I have been thinking about this blog and working on it for way longer than I want to admit, but the important thing is that now IT IS launched!

My name is Marie-Eve (pronounced with your best French accent). I speak and write both French and English. (Sometimes the two languages get tangled, so I welcome any constructive criticism about my syntax and grammar.) I am Canadian, but I have a special place in my heart for my American neighbours because I went to college near the U.S. capital.

I have been married to my college sweetheart for eight years and I have two young sons (so far). I also have a 7 year old useless grey tabby cat who spends his life outside because he would rather run into mean stray cats than my boys.

I have a bachelor’s degree that I thought it was a good idea to pursue when I was 17. It landed me a husband, some dear friends and good memories, but no career whatsoever.

Before I became a full time mother, I was a personal trainer at a gym. I liked motivating people to reach their goals and working out for free.

For as long as I remember, I have wanted to change the world. At first, I thought I would be a missionary doctor. Then I thought I would just be a missionary. Then slowly I started to believe the lie that changing the world was impossible and that I should stick to my simple daily life and focus on random acts of kindness to brighten strangers’ days. That was until a book came into my life that revived my old dreams and made it possible again to change the world… just not the way I thought I would. (You will have to wait for another post for that full story.)

This blog is part of my taking on the world. The way I have been inspired, I want to inspire you. I will be doing so by sharing with you what motivates me daily: making things and lives more efficient.

I have always been obsessed with efficiency. When I was fifteen years old, I remember having a discussion with my father (whom I am very similar to) that I actually planned a mental strategy for the quickest way to get my coffee done in the morning. That is a bit neurotic but that is how my brain works.

As a child, I was often scolded for being too bossy. I wasn’t bossy because I wanted to be mean. I just knew of a quicker or more efficient way to do things, and I wanted to help others. The way I communicated my intent was the problem. Years later, I have worked on the communication and I am here again to help you, I hope, find ways to live a more efficient life.

I will be posting at least every 7 days, probably on random days. I’d rather commit to a weekly schedule and give you quality content, than publish more frequently with less thought-provoking ideas.

I welcome ideas and stories that will inspire myself and others to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. Feel free to comment or get in touch. Join me in my quest for a well-run life!

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