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Relearning the simple life

Relearning the simple life

So much of our new normal is about rooting ourselves at home, adjusting to more domestic lifestyles and interests. The rise of plantitas and plantitos is just one ubiquitous proof. When outside trips are restricted, homey hobbies like gardening, cooking, baking, and crafting are the new cool.

Of course, millennials and Gen Z have a quirky name for this: “cottagecore” or “grandmacore,” a nostalgia-driven and aesthetics-oriented return to simple home life. Think sun-dappled gardens and farms, home-cooked meals with ingredients harvested from the backyard, and slow, celebrated moments with domesticated animals. It’s an idealistic throwback to “simpler times,” when being stuck in a rustic bubble was beautiful, not boring.

It’s different this time, though, because our lives are now inextricable from modern trappings like social media and photo filters and hashtags. The cottagecore movement itself feeds on its popularity on Instagram and TikTok, as if our version of the bucolic life would suddenly stop existing if we didn’t post it and get enough Likes. Even our older titas and titos have taken to posting on Facebook regularly about their blooming houseplants and latest woodworking projects.

Though not impossible, recreating the idyllic dream in 2020 is ambitious—especially if it is based more on a fad than on a genuine yearning for modesty. The “simple life,” when espoused as a mere trend, can paradoxically end up as just another name for our consumerism. And as consumerist trends go, it can reach damaging extents.

Consider the observed increase in plant poaching since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Recent reports show that vulnerable and endangered plant species are being pilfered from the Philippine wild and sold to unaware or unscrupulous plant collectors. While plant poaching is not new in the country, the recent rise in accounts is often attributed to the current gardening frenzy.

Many of the poached plants are ornamentals, such as bantigue trees (popular as bonsai), alocasia plants, and pitcher plants. Conservationists explain that even ornamentals are important in their ecosystems, as other wildlife also rely on these species. Unfortunately, this kind of information does not usually come up in plant trading groups on social media these days. Untroubled home gardeners, seeking the prettiest flora around without concern for their source or status, become the market for this illegal and harmful trade.

Consider also the renewed surge of plastic waste during this pandemic. In an ideal world, our cottagecore life would be free of plastic and other nonbiodegradable waste, because we would be comfortable just using natural materials. With a genuinely simple lifestyle, we would be buying less, reusing more, and wasting little.

But our reality is a boom of online shopping, deliveries, and take-outs, all reliant on huge amounts of nonbiodegradable packaging. Plastic boxes, single-use cups, vacuum-sealed bags, PET bottles, the list goes on. Not to mention we often buy plastic items themselves and end up discarding them after a while.

All these pile on top of our more essential plastic supplies such as disposable masks and personal protective equipment. By UN estimations, about 75 percent of all this plastic waste will clog our landfills and float in our seas.

Who knew that being a homebody can have this much impact?

Maybe we need to learn that simple living isn’t so simple. Or more precisely, it’s not as simple as ordering a potted plant from a Facebook seller and adding it to our balcony collection, #naturelover. Beyond the dreamy aesthetics and the trendy inspirations, a modest life demands an honest-to-goodness commitment to be aware of our actions and conscious of our choices. And this can be challenging, especially after the online craze has died down and cottagecore is no longer cool.

Will our love for simple living outlast the lifespan of our hashtags? Will we still embrace plants and quiet moments after the pandemic? Will we relearn what it means to lead an unpretentious, hurtless life? May these months of downtime lead us there.