In my last post, I talked about the impact consumers have on the fashion industry and on our planet. We live in a highly disposable culture, more than this world has ever known. That has effects and I recommend that you take a look at those numbers if you are just beginning to have this conversation in your life, whether it’s with yourself or others.
I mentioned that there are a lot of WHY questions that are asked when I talk about Consuming Less Stuff, or Ethical Consumerism. The first one was about the impact we all have when we purchase and ultimately dispose of things, with my focus being on fashion. The next WHY I’d like to talk about is whether or not it’s wrong to want nice things.
Disclaimer: This is a personal decision and one that has to be made for each individual, family, and community. I will talk about my own experiences and feelings today, with more to come in the future. Hopefully this will foster discussion and ideas and help everyone find their right balance.
What’s wrong with wanting nice things? Why can’t I have what I want?
This question almost immediately ruffles my feathers a little bit, I must admit. When people ask this sort of question or one that sounds a lot like it, there are a few assumptions underneath, which are:
- Those who try to consume less don’t like our culture, our country, our way of life, fill in the blank…
- Ethical consumers are crazy hippies who are focused on this “green” movement at the cost of both efficiency and fun
- And perhaps the biggest one: Ethical consumers are looking down on me and judging my way of life!
I can’t speak for everyone. I shouldn’t. I can only speak for myself. Here’s where I’m coming from, for those who are just meeting me and those who could use a refresher:
I am an American woman, born in the United States with roots going back as far as the American Civil War in the state of Illinois. I like living where I do and being who I am. There are things I disagree with and dislike about our culture but luckily I’m allowed to say that. I’m striving to become more ethical overall but I am pretty sure that there are some things I will never do. It is doubtful that I’ll end up a monk in the mountains, live in a tiny house, or give up driving a car. I am not so sure that I’m cut out for producing the majority of food that I consume, making all my own clothes, or hunting wild game. Bless you if you do any of those things (shoutout to mountaintop monks with internet access?) and bless you if you don’t! Some folks have tried extreme experiments in the name of being a better citizen of Earth and it’s commendable. I like reading about them and I admire them for their hard work and inspiration. It’s also unlikely that any sort of majority of us could make those radical things work. I like to think that Ethical Consumers recognize this and know their limitations while simultaneously working to expand and do better where they can.
I am a big fan of “You Do You.” Which is to say, you decide what’s right for you and I’ll do the same. Life is about balance and each of us have to decide our top priorities. Maybe you live in an urban environment and keep a small footprint because you don’t need a car and a large living space but your consumption of technology and imported goods outpaces others in rural areas who have bigger homes and consume more fossil fuels but live closer to the land. What is important is how we treat each other directly and indirectly. It’s important to be polite and courteous (just like your mother said!) but perhaps we can think about indirect actions and what we can do better for the planet as a way of extending courtesy to others who might never even find out.
I might never get any credit for picking up litter around the bus stop, putting something into the recycling bin instead of tossing it, or deciding not to buy something that I don’t need. What matters to me is how I feel about myself and my choices and I hope that matters to others, too. Besides, if you really need to brag, you can get this app called Happier that I love and be proud of yourself unabashedly for the right reasons and share it with an audience who will appreciate it, which I sometimes do!
The last assumption is the hardest one to answer. Do Ethical Consumers (and really, any folks who are trying to be “green” or do better) judge those who aren’t? Short answer: I don’t know. Maybe. It is difficult to see things you don’t agree with. I don’t like it when I see someone litter and waste and I have a hard time with massive gas-guzzling cars that have one person inside. It is hard to see someone mistreat their body and take poor care of it. It is SO HARD not to judge and take the high road instead. I have to remind myself that there are lots of reasons why that person might make those choices and that they live in the same consumer society I do with the same pressures and advertisements. For me, the best thing to do is to extend everyone a measure of grace. It certainly helps my energy profile to judge less and ask for the insight to understand. Sometimes the insight bounces back like an automatic text message and I can instantly feel the harsh words melt out of my head. Sometimes not.
No one likes to be criticized needlessly and all I can promise is that I’ll do my best to keep this little space on the vast Web friendly and supportive, starting with me. Cheers to that, right?
Next time, I’ll put together the thoughts of others who have discovered that consuming less has actually made them happier and more free than before. There’s all kinds of evidence that detaching from Stuff and Things actually frees you to attach to other things far more worth your time like People and Joy. And I am ALL ABOUT finding more ways to encourage Joy wherever I can!
Tell me your stories and thoughts, if you’d like. What are you doing to consume less? Does it work? What are your goals and experiments?