Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Pillars of Consuming Consciously

When you are an idealist, it's easy to feel guilty about... well, everything.  Eating conventional food, wearing anything fashionable, using electricity, not donating to good causes.  The truth is, even a perfect idealist would never be fulfilled because we will never achieve a perfect environment.  So, where do you find a balance?  It's important for me to communicate that this blog is not out to crush industry or progress. I am not expecting everyone in the world to give up drinking bottled water, conventional beef or shopping at WalMart.  I have chosen to give up those things, but I still drive a car, I don't have a garden, and (gasp) I am not a great recycler. 
I've realized that it's difficult for me to give up things I find very convenient.  For the same reason, someone else might put a lot of effort into recycling and zero effort into cooking from scratch, because they happen to have recycling pick up in their back yard but don't know how to cook.  Convenience is subjective, and everyone has different ideas about how to conserve time in some places in order to make more time for areas more important to them.  There's nothing wrong with that.  The convenience filter is necessary, in fact, in order to keep us all from going completely out of our minds.  It helps our minds prioritize, because it is impossible (especially in our current economic and values culture) to do everything "good" or "right", and there is also a lot of disagreement over what is good and right in the first place.  We have to choose a focus that sits well with us, something that makes us feel aligned correctly without feeling like we have to save the universe.
Consuming Consciously means putting your money in the places that fight for your cause.  I buy sustainably raised food because I believe it is better for our future.  I don't drink bottled water because it is not only a rip-off but an environmental disaster. My view is that companies like Walmart and McDonald's have driven our economy into a low profit, high volume model that small businesses can't compete with.  Business, however, will always be driven to expand, make more money, become more powerful.  The only way to change the ethical behavior of business is to change the ethical behavior of our consumption.  You can tell the world how you feel by how you choose to spend your money.  Would you like Hershey to buy fair trade chocolate? The buy fair trade chocolate.  You don't like the price of gas? Buy a bike.  Upset that Monsanto prevents GMO labeling? Give up processed food altogether.  I would never tell you what to care about, I just want you to care about something. Do you love local? Buy in season and go to farmer's markets.
The second pillar of being a conscious consumer is to learn to live on less. Americans consume a lot more calories than we used to, along with an excess of material things that we don't really need.  While it's enjoyable to have shiny electronics and their inevitable high bills, I would suggest, gently, trying a new hobby that isn't shopping.  Need a buddy? is a great resource if you live near a city.  We talk a big game about not being able to afford this or that, but we are reluctant to use things that are free, such as using the library, walking, or volunteering, and all of these things are usually more gratifying when we fight the laziness bug, and all of them can help you live more frugally.
Finally, consuming consciously will reflect a shift in values.  We are raised to believe that success in life means that you are financially successful.  Children are encouraged to follow lucrative career paths (although not entrepreneurship?) rather than ones they are passionate about.  We have become gradually more individualist, resulting in all of us standing alone on our islands, filled with our piles of stuff.  We work hard at jobs we hate so that we can take vacation, therefore spending even less time in our communities becoming connected to the people in them.  We should work on unlearning this, and instead of complaining about needing to get out of town, start thinking about what would make us more fulfilled (not distracted).  Consuming consciously means having purpose behind every purchase rather than using it as a tool for entertainment.
This post and the last one have laid a foundation, and now I will start sharing of my Conscious consumption experiences and likes, and I hope that this will become a forum for sharing as well.

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely loved this. You are fortunate to have wonderful ideas AND a wonderful writing ability to communicate them.