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Definition of Lifely Products
"When you build a thing, you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must also repair the world around it, and within it, so that the large world at that one place becomes more coherent, and more whole; and the thing which you make takes its place in the web of nature, as you make it."
-- Christopher Alexander,
A Pattern Language
an architectural design text that applies to design of anything and everything
This post is a work-in-progress and will likely evolve as I gain more experience with lifely products.
The big difference between lifely products and all industrial products is that they go beyond the whole idea of industrialization and take a leap into Nature.
Lifely products have several aspects.
First, there is a difference in philosophy between industrial products and lifely products.
The big difference between Lifely as a philosophy and industrial consumerism is that lifely takes the viewpoint we are not defined by the acquisition of material possessions but rather by bettering ourselves and the world as human beings.
Our happiness comes from increasing our ability to communicate, cooperate love, and create rather than having a bigger house, more cars, or remodeling the kitchen just because it is out-of-date.
We view ourselves as part of Nature rather than part of the industrial world. Our aim is to live integrated within the ecosystems in which we dwell, and have our needs met directly, rather than through industrial society.
With this in mind, the question becomes: How do we meet the everyday physical needs of our bodies while also considering the needs of other humans and life-at-large?
Living As Nature
First, we need to recognize that our needs are met by Nature, not by industrial manufacturing. We need clean air, clean water, food in its natural state, and household items made with materials that can be taken and returned to the Earth in a way that regenerates resources being available for future needs.
Start with Lifestyle
Before you ever look at a product, there are lifestyle practices to consider:
- simple living - reduce the amount of things you need in your home. Have what you need to live and work, but not to excess. Go through your belongings and see what you can eliminate. What is essential to keep. This is not about austerity or poverty. It’s about fulfilling your real needs. Simple living conserves resources, saves money, and gives you the satisfaction that you have what you need.
- buy local - choose products that are made locally from local materials. Local can be defined in several ways. Some people consider products to be “local” if they are made within a radius of a certain number of miles from materials also found within that radius. Others define the radius of local by the ecosystem in which they live. At first, local might mean made in the USA. Whatever your definition, products become more and more lifely the closer they are made to your home.
- make it yourself - handcrafts are an important aspect of lifely because they completely eliminate the factory aspect of industrialization. But this is true only if the product is handcrafted from materials obtained from the ecosystem and not industrially manufactured materials from the craft store. I have a broom made by a man who gathers materials from the woods and then makes the brooms by hand. Perfectly lifely.
- reuse existing products - there are so many products that already exist in the world…many just need new homes, some need repair, some can be refashioned…When Larry and I need something the first thing we do is see if we can buy it used. Materials should come from the earth and go back to the earth with as much use in between as possible. I also find older products to be more beautiful, more useful, and better quality than most new manufactured products.
Lifely Description of a Product Based in Nature
I began studying the environmental effects of consumer products in 19871987. As a first step, I began publishing a small newsletter on the subject, called The Earthwise Consumer. This was before any products were called “green.”
From the beginning, I looked for a standard that would define a product that would not harm the environment. And I found there was one: life itself. I saw that if I just looked to nature to see how Life designed products that coexisted harmoniously in the living ecosystems of the Earth, there could be no more solid and true foundation on which I could build my ideas about what constitutes an environmentally safe product.
The field of sustainability emerged soon after, which looks to nature for inspiration as to how we humans can successfully integrate our own activities into the harmonious whole of life.
So what I say here is not my opinion, it is my observation of life itself.
Nature gives us a very clear model of what a lifely product is:
- made from resources that renew themselves within a reasonable period of time
- made from resources that are available within a local area
- made from resources that are available in the current season
- utilize only the amount of the resource that can be used and still sustain the existence of the resource
- makes efficient use of resources in design
- made from materials that are completely natural, in their form as it exists in nature
- is beautiful
- made from resources that biodegrade back into the ecosystem so their nutrients can be recycled into the making of new resources
- produces no waste.
This is the way nature makes products and so should we.
Back in the early 1990s, larry and I took a trip to the Netherlands. A field of Belted Galloway cows caught our attention because they had a wide white band around their middles, which we had never seen before. And then we noticed that there was a building where they made cheese, right there in the field! They simply milked the cows, carried the milk a few feet into the creamery, made the cheese, and sold it to customers who were passing by. Of course, we had to try some of the cheese and it was delicious! That’s a lifely product. And not so long ago, before industrialization, all products made were made like this.
I wish all products were as simple as this. Until they are, we have to do our best to choose products that are moving in the direction of lifely. Many of them are only locally available, as they should be.
But we will do our best to review lifely products to show you our lifely logic and help you understand so ou can look at any product and make a reasonable estimation of where it falls on the The Lifely Continuum of Products & The Journey to LIfely Products. And soon you will be able to recognize lifely products when you see them.