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No doubt, it has been a tough couple of weeks on Wall Street and on Main Streets all across this country. People looking at their retirement funds wondering where the money has gone. People looking at their health care plan wondering where it has gone. And too many people looking at what was once their job, their paycheck, their source of income and livelihood, and wondering where on earth it has gone.
There are two things that, as I sit here writing today, I hope come of this financial crisis.
First, I hope that we learn to spend and consume more wisely. Actually, my hope is simpler than that. I hope that we simply learn to cut back on our spending and our consumption, and to live without some things. It didn't used to be a popular thing to talk about — living without. People got all depressed and thought you were brow beating them. But, that (thankfully) doesn't seem to be the case so much today. We all know it needs to be done, people just want help figuring out where to cut back. My last post, "Day of Decadence Done" offered some tips on ways to simplify. Many of you wrote in with your suggestions as well, which was great. Our ideas included foregoing the bigger house, the fancier car, the daily coffee-shop fix, and so on. In short, think before you buy.
Second, and very importantly, I hope that through these struggles we somehow connect again, on a deep and personal level, with the people around us. We've gone bubble-boy in years of late. We all walk around with phones to our ears, one person to a car (I know, I know not ALL of us/you do, but I'm speaking of a great majority of people around this country), doing our own business, in our own space. If nothing else, my hope is that this shake-up will shake our status quo, and open our eyes to neighbors in all directions.
What do I mean by that? Simply put, I hope that we start looking at the people and the things around us, and learning to rely on and contribute to those.
In that spirit, here are my Cost Free Ways to Connect, In These Times of Cutting Back.
1. Volunteer to Clean Up: Many non-profits and privately funded organizations are going to be feeling their belts tightening. Yet the important work that they orchestrate will still need to be done. Gather a group of neighbors, friends from church or your kid's school, or classmates from on campus, and spend a Saturday afternoon cleaning up your city streets and parks.
The connection: you with community members, friends and park-goers
The cost-free bonus: a clean city
2. Elbow Grease for Food: Call up an area farm and offer your services in exchange for some of their crops. As small farmers feel the pinch they may have a harder time keeping on workers to help transport produce to the farmer's markets, or make deliveries for their CSAs. They may even have a hard time with their last harvests and fall cleanup. Offer your time in exchange for some potatoes, beets, and squash.
The connection: you with the farmers and shoppers at the market
The cost-free bonus: food
3. Host a Discussion Night: Have you noticed how water-cooler conversations have taken a u-turn, from the latest plot line of "Ugly Betty" to politics and global finances? It's cool to see how suddenly everyone has an opinion, and something to say. Even you are probably reading more than your normal share of blogs, articles and books these days. So (like a book club, except that no one needs to have read a book) try holding a discussion party in your home or city park. Allow people the chance to talk about what's happening around them, to share ideas, concerns and fears. It's a beautiful thing to give a hug and say "I know, I'm scared too." Then, after the "kum-bay-yah" sing-along, see if you can come up with a solution or two. If you don't live in a neighborhood or city environment, invite people to a chat room on-line.
The connection: you with people and their opinions
The cost-free bonus: enlightenment (and, maybe even solution)
4. Micro Lend: People, over a billion around the world, live on less than $2 a day. By committing a small amount of your money to a lending organization like Kiva or MicroPlace, you will be providing funding for loans (in the US or abroad) that can dramatically change the way people live. The amount you invest can literally be pocket change, or coins collected from under couch cushions and under car seats (which is why I'm including this in the "cost-free" ways to connect). In a time when investments aren't bringing much return, this is an investment that does good.
The connection: you with the world's working poor
The cost-free bonus: too many to list
5. Throw a Progressive Party: We need fun, too! Pick 4 or 5 houses on your block, or rooms in your dorm, and hold a progressive party. I've done it with cocktails or dinner. Each 'host' needs only to provide one thing, so it isn't overwhelming like a typical dinner party. Spend 45 minutes per location before moving on. The best connections and conversations usually happen over food, so be ready to get deep (or stay shallow) and connect. To add a philanthropic arm, tell everyone to bring their pocket change so you can collectively make a donation or loan (see number 4).
The connection: you with some fun friends
The cost-free bonus: again, too many to list
Sara Snow is a green living expert and regular contributor to TreeHugger via her Green Eyes On column. She can also be seen on CNN.com on Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Her new DVD Growing Green Babies is now available through SaraSnow.com.