In this Living the Dream interview, New Dream speaks with Katy Wolk-Stanley, a labor and delivery nurse in Oregon and the founder of the popular blog The Non-Consumer Advocate.
What does “the good life” mean to you? And how did you come to this vision?
For me, "the good life” means putting my energy toward what really matters in life. I really don’t give a rat’s hiney what "The Joneses" are up to, and I take great pleasure in crafting a life for my family that is at once meaningful and personal. I often feel like I’m reinventing the wheel, but that’s okay because I never wanted another person's idea of the wheel in the first place.
I want to be able to choose what’s important in life, and that often requires sacrifice. Cooking frugal meals from scratch, indefinitely putting off expensive purchases, saying “no” to my kids, and keeping day-to-day life simple means that our energies and finances are available for the big stuff. This might be the opportunity for my kids to play on an expensive elite sports team or go on a foreign exchange trip. Either way, these splurges wouldn’t be possible if our daily lives hemorrhaged money.
I came to this realization when I was on maternity leave with my younger son. Although I loved my job as a labor and delivery nurse, the full-time work was depleting my energy. I was given a copy of Amy Dacyczyn’s Complete Tightwad Gazette, and it flipped a switch for me. I suddenly had the tools to keep my household expenses under control, and was able to switch to a part-time work schedule. My husband is the only person at his workplace who doesn’t pick up overtime shifts.
When 2007 rolled around, I joined a worldwide buy-nothing-new movement called The Compact, which took me from being cheap to being a non-consumer. I began thinking twice about how products are manufactured, seeing my cluttered home with a new eye, and rethinking my role in today’s upside-down consumer society. I started blogging as The Non-Consumer Advocate in 2008 and have been able to put together a worldwide community of like-minded individuals who also want to invent their own wheels.
What’s the one thing you enjoy most about your lifestyle?
One of the best side-effects of my non-consumer lifestyle is that I have a tremendous amount of free time. Because I spend less, I’m able to work less; and because I stay away from those dreaded Joneses, I feel comfortable saying “no” to excessive school volunteering opportunities, Tupperware party invitations, and girls’ nights out. I get to indulge in walking dates with friends, read my library books, and take the time to cook from scratch or simply daydream.
Is there anything at all about your life these days that you really wish you could change or improve?
I wish I could slow down the clock. With sons in 10th and 12th grade, I am all too aware how soon we’ll be experiencing our own empty nest. Of course, my husband and I want to see our sons transition into adulthood, but we know how much we’ll miss their wonderfully, kooky company.
Tell us a little about the work that you do.
I consider myself to be equal parts RN and writer.
As a hospital-based labor and delivery nurse, I feel like I have the perfect job. It’s at once challenging, rewarding, and well paying. Even though I only work two days per week, I’m able to make enough money to keep my family on top of our finances. It’s stressful and exhausting, but totally worth it. I’ve been in the same job for 18 1/2 years, and I expect to stay through retirement.
As “The Non-Consumer Advocate,” I’ve been able to create a large and active worldwide community. Years of daily blogging have honed my writing skills, and I’ve made wonderful connections and learned tremendous amounts from my thousands of daily readers. I’m very lucky to have found such a platform for my message to “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
Describe some ways that you are involved in your community.
My community is at once geographically near and spread throughout the Internet. My city block of neighbors have had no choice but to join in my non-consumer fun. They’ve all learned to both borrow and share, to ask when help is needed, and to combine their resources. For example, everyone borrows our wheelbarrow and post-hole digger, while we use one neighbor’s paper shredder and another neighbor’s cat carrier. These infrequently used items can be shared among multiple families, and it’s up to each of us to create these types of sharing communities. There’s no reason for each household to own something that gets used maybe once per year. And because I write extensively about these issues, my community is creating ripple-effect communities throughout the world.
For many, your lifestyle is considered “outside the mainstream.” Does this present any challenges, and, if so, how do you deal with them?
I know that many Americans would consider my family’s lifestyle “outside the mainstream,” but I live in the liberal bubble that is Portland, Oregon. My suburban hospital workplace offers more of a mainstream American perspective, but I’ve found that most people are respectfully curious, and will often confess ways in which they’ve repaired a household item or found a way around having to buy new.
We are more alike than we are different.
Please describe any new skills or hobbies that you’re really excited about or that you would love to learn if you had the time and resources.
I keep my hobbies frugal and practical. Whether it’s an enormous batch of applesauce or my writing, I shy away from pricey new interests. (No knitting for me!) I am really quite content with my life the way it is.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
I love Anne Lamott’s advice about a “shitty first draft.” It can be intimidating to sit in front of a blank computer document, but allowing myself permission to start with less-than-ideal writing is very freeing. The “shitty first draft” can be expanded in most every aspect of life, as shying away from life until it can be done perfectly will stop you in your tracks. By allowing myself to steer clear of perfection, I’m able to engage with the world.
New Dream's "Living the Dream" series profiles folks from around the world who are living lives focused on “more of what matters.” If you or someone you know is living the New Dream, please contact us—we're looking for inspiring stories to share!