The Good Life Lab: A powerful message on life, stuff, and true sustainability

7 Oct

In late September, students at Smith College were blessed with a lesson in the environmental, physical, and emotional impacts of stuff, and our insatiable desire for more of it. Wendy Tremayne, author of The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living, and her partner, Mikey Sklar, gave an hour and a half long talk about their adventure from one extreme lifestyle to another, and the incredible lessons that we can all learn from their change. In 2006, they both left their high profile, high stress, and highly taxing careers in marketing and on Wall Street, sold (almost) everything, and bought a piece of land in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Their goals were to decommodify (commodify: treat as a commodity, commercialization) their lives, reconnect with nature, use their skills (and acquire more) to make what they need rather than buy it, and live an abundant life.

They succeeded phenomenally. In a couple of years, they had built a sustainable home, were growing about 50% of their food (and were making just about all of it), had learned dozens of new skills, and were living a more relaxed, interesting, secure, exciting, and abundant life then before – on under 30,000 dollars a year. The Good Life Lab includes everything from lessons on how staggeringly unsustainable the current “ideal lifestyle” is to step by step directions on how to make your own biofuel. It serves as both an exciting story to spark interest and inspire a new way of looking at the world, as well as a guidebook on how to embark on a making versus buying lifestyle.

   

One of the most inspiring things I took away from this talk (and perusal of the book afterwards) is how irrevocably intermingled human sustainability is with the sustainability of the earth. When Wendy and Mikey decided to dive in head first and live a decommodified life, they were not only switching to a much greener way of life with a much smaller carbon footprint, but they were allowing their own lifestyle to be just as sustainable and kind on a personal level. In a developed world that is afflicted with all kinds of chronic illnesses, cancers, anxieties, loneliness, and more, yet full of items to buy to supposedly fill those holes, it is no wonder that many people feel rushed, stressed, and uneasy. As the planet suffers from our continual need of commodified goods and an ever-growing GDP, we are also suffering. As Wendy said in an interview ”We go to work to earn money to buy back the world that we already own”, and this work, which for many people is both stressful and draining, makes it necessary to purchase instead of create our livelihood.

One of the most reassuring stories that Wendy had to tell was that of her experience during the market crash in 2008. She and Mikey moved out of New York City and took their money out of the stock market (which everyone was telling them was a terrible idea) right before the crash. They were fully entrenched in the decommodified life by the time the severe repercussions hit a most of the nation. As it turns out, they were not affected at all by the economic downturn, nor were the rest of their neighbors living a similar lifestyle. Life in Truth or Consequences, with a strong local economy that was largely trade based, continued on normally. When living outside of the “system”, YOU determine your well-being and livelihood,  not the businesses on Wall Street. What is more secure than that?

I recommend Wendy’s book to anyone who feels as if they are craving a change in their day-to-day hum drums of life (or anyone who would like to learn how to fashion a fire breathing  trampoline). This book is a message to remember ourselves, our skills, what is truly important to us, and how we want to experience our short time on this earth. It is a message to take care of the planet while taking care of ourselves. If that is not the definition of true sustainability, I’m not sure what is.

-Savannah Holden, ’16

Savannah Holden is a sophomore and prospective Government major, economics minor, and sustainable food concentrator. She is loving her new job as a CEEDS intern, and tries to spend as much time as possible reading, cooking, being active outside- all while figuring out how to travel more!

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