|Graphic by Sarah L.com (shared by Rebecca Somogyi on Facebook)|
We are all consumers. We must consume to meet our needs and stay alive. We need food, shelter, medical care. We need clothing, communication, transportation, education. We need, so we consume.
But our culture is focused on constant consumption, 24/7, without a thought for the cost to others or our planet. The consumer society is self-centered and individualistic, placing value on what we possess, and idolizing those who indulge themselves in luxury and waste. We have created a short-term, throwaway culture.
We also consume time, that precious, limited, God-given resource. We waste a ton of it, mindlessly watching TV, playing video games, and scrolling through social media. We squeeze most of the rest of it, priding ourselves on our busyness, gaining self-esteem by imagining we are indispensable because our calendars are crammed. We shortchange necessities like relationships, creativity, and sleep in favor of our go-go time consumption.
Our use of time has become a great divider, according to Ruth Valerio, author of L is for Lifestyle: Christian Living That Doesn't Cost the Earth. There are those who spend time to save money, and others who spend money to save time (so they can make more money). Our culture is heavily invested in the latter, encouraging us to buy more smart devices and even hire people to fill our grocery carts. The fact that we become chained to our jobs in order to afford the time-savers seems to escape our notice. With that mindset, we'll be chronically short of time forever.
How can we be more balanced consumers? How can we be more ethical as we meet our consumption needs?
8 Tips for Kinder Consumption*
1. Buy things for usefulness rather than status.
We all need shoes, but we don't need a closet full of high-end designer shoes. We need transportation, but we don't need the brand-new luxury model. In fact, if you can easily afford to drive a luxury car, choosing to purchase a pre-owned, fuel-efficient, mid-priced model makes a strong statement about your values.
2. Stop trying to keep up with the hyper-consumption patterns of celebrities and other influencers.
This is a corollary to #1. Be especially aware that many of the people you might emulate are being paid to promote whatever they're wearing, driving, drinking, etc.
3. Be skeptical of advertising, which is basically propaganda.
Advertisers want you to desire and purchase something, and they don't care how they convince you to do it. They market to little children, for goodness' sake, and try to make 2-year-olds brand-conscious. Stop listening to them.
4. Reject things to which you are addicted.
Distinguish between real psychological needs and your addictions. What do I mean by that?
- You need cheerful surroundings and beauty in your life, but be careful of HGTV makeover shows and lifestyle magazines that cause you to desire and purchase home decor and upgrades on a regular basis.
- You need comfort and solace, but be aware of repeated or increasing indulgences.
- You need to learn, but think twice before jumping in to purchase all the tools and paraphernalia for yet another short-term interest.
5. Learn to enjoy things without owning them.
Public parks and libraries come to mind: you don't need to own a beautiful lawn, a large play area, or shelves full of books in order to enjoy them. Great art and architecture can enrich your life while remaining in the public domain. You can rent or borrow and enjoy the use of camping or sports equipment, tools, formal clothes, and so many more items without needing to buy and keep them forever.
6. Develop the habit of generosity rather than self-indulgence.
Remember that the ability to give is a true indication of wealth.
7. Develop a deep appreciation and love for nature.
The natural world is essential to our mental, emotional, and physical health. Time in nature is something we all need more of. But we don't need to own and consume it. We don't need to become eco-tourists. In fact, if we all cared more for the green spaces that are near to us, even in urban settings, we would not only preserve and enlarge those spaces, but we'd be able to gain peace and refreshment from them every day.
8. Reject things that cause others to be oppressed.
In some way, that means that we, the privileged, need to refrain from exploiting the poor and powerless. We need to care about equal treatment and equal opportunity. We need to be compassionate, not greedy or self-centered. We need to be satisfied with enough so we can share with those who don't have enough.
So we might
- reject fast fashion.
- look for "fair trade" labels.
- buy from companies that have committed to worker safety and a living wage.
- stop eating meat, or make sure that we purchase only when animals have been treated humanely.
- buy more organic produce in order to reduce the amount of pesticides that farm workers are exposed to.
- purchase used items more often, to prevent additional pollution and exploitation due to extraction and manufacturing processes.
- keep items longer (especially cars and electronics) for the same reasons, and also to reduce toxic exposures due to recycling practicies.
By considering what we really need and evaluating our consumption habits, we can not only keep ourselves from debt and clutter, but we can "vote with our dollars" for a more just and equitable world.
* Richard Foster's Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World, suggested some of these ideas.