Oh, where to begin?
I’ve never particularly been a fan of “things”, but when I needed them, you can bet that I’d be the first to find what I needed as economically as possible. I’d feel a swell of pride that I could make do with an inexpensive alternative, or was patient enough to scope out the best deal. I wouldn’t consider myself cheap – frugal or thrifty would be my preferred adjectives – though cost-cutting is some kind of game I like to play, competing (mostly) with myself.
At the same time, I don’t have an extensive purchase history, at least by the standards I see plastered across the media or embedded in today’s onslaught of advertising. My parents have always had to poke, prod, and probe to get me to produce “wish lists” come birthdays or Christmas. I couldn’t tell you why; I’m just wired that way. (It’s not like I was so aware or well-meaning as a young kid that I would insist my parents donate a toy to someone else who needs it instead, though that would have been admirable). This has generally remained the same as I’ve gotten older – my monthly spending is almost entirely rent, utilities & food, with some dining out, donations, Target runs, and miscellaneous things mixed in. Though I have my own income now, purchasing things “just because” is far from habit.
I don’t mean any of this in some kind of boastful way, only to let anyone reading this know where I’m coming from: a background with access to “things”, but without an overwhelming desire to obtain them. While I’m not someone who might be considered a materialist, or an over-consumer, that doesn’t mean that I’ve adopted habits that mean I’m truly doing shopping “right”.
Just because I’m not someone who has not historically been attracted to all things shiny and new doesn’t mean that I’ve contributed more than my fair share to environmental degradation and inhumane treatment of people I never have, and never will meet.
I value our environment, I value community, I value others – and a globalized consumer culture has hung a sheet between the items that stock the grocery and department store aisles and their sources, generating a juxtaposition of my values and actions.
So why not try to change?
This year, I will. This year will be an attempt to truly consider where the products and food I purchase come from, whose hands have touched them, and the impact I’m having on people and the planet. This year, I will borrow, barter, then buy – and only buy new if I can support someone locally, or buy from a company or organization that is truly aligning with my values.
However, I don’t intend for this to be something I hang up as we ring in 2018. Perhaps by then this will all seem routine or automatic, or I’ll have discerned what parts of this are sustainable and what may need to give in the long term.
This adventure of sorts I’m about to embark on is not about not consuming, but consuming in an intentional, conscious way. I’m not swearing off buying things to curb an addiction to shopping, to save money, or prove a point (though, if there are some economic benefits, I’ll gladly accept). Instead, I’m looking to “purchase deliberately”, and take more responsibility for the actions I take with the power of the pocketbook.
I’m aware that this is a choice of mine that comes loaded with privilege; I have the luxury of being able to spend time contemplating my decisions, patiently scope out used items, or perhaps spend more on something that is made locally than scooping it off the affordable Wal-Mart shelves. No matter how much I cut back, I know that I’ll still consume far more than most of the world’s population. And that’s an issue I’ll explore more as the year goes on. But if I’m in a position to be able to help support local farmers & makers, and divert my dollars from elsewhere, then shouldn’t I?
In these last few days before the new year begins, I’ll finalize my plans for the and share them on this site. I imagine the year will unfold much like a Scrabble or Monopoly game with a new crowd – with a lot of rule-checking & making as it goes on. (Obviously, used underwear and TP aren’t really a thing. So we’ll be working though that). For me, the challenge is one thing, but the principle is what truly matters.
So here we go: the road to conscious consumerism begins now.