Happy New Year!
So the New Year is upon us and it’s the season for resolutions! Personally, I’m not very good at resolutions. They quickly peter out within the first month. But I’m really good at experiments. In 2013, I did The Photo-A-Day Project. In 2015, I did The Closet Project. And now 2017 is going to be the Year of Mindful Consumption.
One of the core aspects of The Tiny Life is deliberate and intentional consumption. This is not about not buying anything or trying to survive solely off the land. (Even though I really appreciate the idea of homesteading and self-sustainability, I am not in a position right now to try it.) We need to consume in order to live; there’s no getting away from that. It’s about understanding the environmental and human impact of the objects, food and resources we consume in our daily lives and spending and using only what we need in a respectful and ethical manner. As a society, we are becoming more and more aware of the larger, hidden cost of cheap and disposable items – the human and animal lives it harms, the degradation to our environment it causes, and the stress and financial burden that this totally needless STUFF creates in our personal lives.
Soldier Boy and I have been working on the long and emotional process of decluttering for a couple of years now and we’ve been trying to be more environmentally friendly in our choices. We’ve done things like switching chemical cleaners for natural ones, using cloth towels for cleanups instead of paper towels, and trying to buy products and food from companies and small businesses that use ethical practices, are local and/or that give back to their community.
But this year, I’m kicking the mindful consumption challenge up a notch. This year, I’m questioning everything I consume. Because “Mindless consumption always turns into excessive consumption.” (Joshua Becker, becomingminimalist.com) Do I really need the lights on? (This might seem a ridiculous question but I’ve had a lifelong uneasiness about darkness indoors and it’s been a long-running battle with Soldier Boy about my leaving lights on. Too many horror movies as a child, I guess.) Can I use something reusable instead of something disposable to clean up that mess? Can I repair this broken/ripped/damaged thing instead of disposing of it and buying a new one? Can I just do without?
Even as aware as we already are, this next step is going to be a big one. This is where it gets serious. This is where we actually DO what we have learned. It’s going to be tough because we live in a culture that puts an incredible amount of pressure on us to consume, to buy, to keep up. It’s everywhere – practically inescapable. Even though the two of us don’t have TV, we don’t buy magazines, we don’t generally ever go shopping just to “go shopping”, we are a product of this culture and when something that we are using or wearing starts to falter, our first thought tends to be, “Well, we’ll just get a new one.” And often, in our house, we have a very good reason to get a new one. But what if we didn’t get a new one? What would happen? How would my life change? Or would it? Doesn’t this idea of not consuming lead to a natural decluttering? If we just don’t replace things, we will eventually end up with less stuff. And the stuff we end up with will be the stuff that is important, useful and beautiful. It will be all the stuff that actually means something.
A by-product of this experiment will be to see if we actually save any money. In the past four months we were hit with huge vet bills and car repairs. It was a streak of bad luck, nothing more. But in order to get our credit cards under control again, we do have to scale back on our spending. We have to make financially smarter choices as well as more ethical ones.
For more information on consuming intentionally and mindfully, you can watch a very interesting documentary called The Minimalists (it’s on Netflix right now). To help me keep focused on my goal, I’ve started with the strategies listed in this post 9 Intentional Ways to Challenge Consumerism in Your Life. Also, this is an interesting article about what you may be supporting by shopping at cheap clothing retailers: The Hidden Cost of Made-in-America Retail Bargains. I also found this page – The Mindful Consumption Challenge – that has several good strategies and articles posted on mindful consumption. There is lots of information out there on the cost of our garbage and the damage disposable items do to our world. Just listen carefully to current events and you’ll see how our choices affect our world. (Remember the Joe Fresh factory disaster? What about the fact that Nestlé continues to use child labour? Not to mention that they are outbidding small towns for control of their own water. The stories are everywhere.) Forbes has a list of the 10 Biggest Socially Irresponsible Industries. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that fossil fuels, agriculture and the clothing industry are the worst so it’s important that our choices don’t contribute to these industries any more than we have to. (Featured image from Mindful Monday: Be Mindful of Your Consumption Today.)
I will be keeping note of my progress in my hand-written journal but I will periodically post my reflections on a separate page on this blog. If you are interested in following my journey, you will find the tab at the top of the home page.
So this is it. 2017. The Year of Mindful Consumption. How will you make your 2017 meaningful?
5 thoughts on “2017: The Year of Mindful Consumption”
Good for you… So true that living a conserver lifestyle isn’t easy in our consumer society… but it is rewarding in so many other ways. I loved the Minimalist doc, because it presented mindful consumption as not something negative, like we’re giving up so much stuff that we absolutely need. I’ve found that usually I gain so much more of what I really need…. more time, more love, more savings, more peace…. but always remember, that we’re human and we will fail at times… All or nothing thinking has never worked for me, but one day at a time makes a difference.
Thanks for commenting Bruce. It’s true – the all or nothing philosophy is why so many people find it difficult or end up giving it up. When we first got the cabin, the lack of storage space and utilities really put our consumption into a different perspective. The next step for me is really taking into consideration the cost (human, animal, environmental) of producing a replacement object and is my need for that “thing” greater than a decent wage for another human being, or the suffering of an animal (and I don’t mean consuming meat from local family farms, I mean more factory farms or animal testing)? It’s an awareness-building activity mostly because there will be times where I need to get something quick and cheap. And I’m not out to judge anyone else’s path; everyone does what they can that fits into their own lives. 🙂
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Feeling totally overwhelmed to the point of being incapacitated by energy-sapping, life-draining STUFF, I exclaimed one day, “I can’t take it anymore! From now on if we want to bring anything into the house we have to get rid of two things first.” Just proclaiming that ultimatum brought relief! Such heady liberation! Practical application however, has proven interesting and wryly comical. For instance, does throwing out a cracked mug and giving a gently-loved, no-longer-worn T-shirt to goodwill (2 things) justify the purchase of a brand new 21′ camper (1 thing)? Maybe not. But we LOVE camping and use the camper to its fullest, every inch of it. So… Minimalism isn’t about not having stuff, it’s about having only stuff that enhances, energizes, enables joy and has emotional value (not mere material value). “Can I live without it?” is my consumer mantra. I’m excited to follow your “Year of Mindful Consumption” and hope to glean some valuable tips on how to live the idea. I know in my heart that Purpose can’t be found in consumption, in fact, consumption obscures Purpose; that the key to everything doesn’t lie in things, but it’s the non-mindless-consuming, the actual de-thinging that’s the challenge ❤️.
Thanks for commenting Laura. I love the points you made. I’ve done the exact same thing. We bought a dehydrator recently which seems like a frivolous appliance but we’ve already saved fruit and vegetables that were on their last day as well as created our own jerky for hikes, instead of buying a $10 pack of it every time. Also, as I mentioned in my reply to Bruce’s comment, mindful consumption isn’t just about having less stuff but also making sure that my choices to consume don’t negatively impact others or our natural world. Just the other day, I considered throwing something out instead of going through the arduous and awkward task of washing it and repairing it (because I would have at one time considered the cost of buying to be less than the amount of work to fix it), but then I started to consider the working conditions in which the people who produced it probably work, the environmental impact of creating the fabric and dye, the carbon footprint to get it to the retailer and finally, the working conditions of the people who work in the giant box store retailer. Hmmm…now the cost to replace it seems MUCH higher than the work I put into washing it and repairing it myself. It will be an interesting experiment indeed!
I love that buyerachy of needs. It’s definitely food for thought. I watched the Minimalists doco over the holidays and it was so inspiring. I have a long way to go on the decluttering journey and am not sure I have it in me to be a hardcore minimalist but I can certainly declutter. I love the idea of keeping the stuff that means something and is useful and beautiful. I’m looking forward to checking out those links. I’m keen to know how you get on this year. Good luck!