Replacing Consumerism

Recently, I did something that I’d wanted to do for a long time but always been too cheap/busy/timid/tired to: I signed up for a pottery wheel class. 

Monday night was my first class. I sat at the wheel up to my elbows in slip, clay flowing limpidly under my braced hands. You’d think that centering clay would be a gradual process, but there’s a definite click when the clay goes from a wobbly mass pushing back against your hand and when it suddenly acquiesces to the exact shape of your fingers; in this moment, clay and hand are in perfect accord.  For a tactile sensation junkie like me, it was pure magic. And even though it was late, and I’d had a long day, I had the sudden conviction that there was nothing else I would have rather been doing at that moment.

It actually pisses me off that I’ve spent so much of my life shopping when I could have been doing any of the things that make me really happy to be alive. Although I like pretty things, I don’t actually like shopping very much. After half an hour in a store, I wander around in a headachey, indecisive daze. More often than not, I talk myself out of everything in my basket — even the things I went there to get — and leave empty-handed and in a foul temper. Who am I kidding? I hate shopping. And I probably only go because it’s easier than doing something creative — and I’ve been barraged my whole life with messages that buying things will make me look and feel better.  

I think shopping could rightly be characterized as America’s favorite addiction; the figures are in The Story of Stuff, but essentially: we spend more and more of our time shopping and feel less and less happy with our lives. Not only are we decimating ecosystems and trashing the planet in the name of unconstrained consumerism, but we’re also making ourselves miserable.

It’s time to jump off this bandwagon. So I took a few minutes to come up with some activities that I know make me far happier, more contented, and more fulfilled than shopping ever will.

  • Going for a walk in the woods on a bright weekday morning, sketchbook in hand. Something about clean air, trees, and no humans in sight (sorry, that’s my misanthropy speaking) sloughs off all my pent up stresses and anxieties. I breathe in sunlight, silence, sanity.
  • Working with my hands. For all that I spend a lot of time up in my head, I love to draw and mold and bake. Like many people, I completely lose track of time when I’m drawing or pinching a lump of clay into a shape or shaping dough into cookies, and I think it’s the only time that the harried part of my brain gets to let go of all of its anxieties.
  • Spending time with non-humans. Life feels empty without a furry companion to lounge around with. I’ve loved socializing my shy blind kitty, and she repays me by purring and flopping over for tummy rubs about fifteen times a day. Once or twice a month I go down to the local cat shelter and socialize shy kitties. I love going, but I don’t make time for it as often as I could. Every hour I spend shopping takes me away from building connections with animals that are, after all, the basis of my environmentalism.
  • Spending time with the special people in my life that I genuinely love and would go far out of my way for. There aren’t many, but you know who you are. It doesn’t matter if we just hang around and read or watch hilariously bad B monster movies together. Time spent with you is time well spent.
  • Reading and writing about things that interest me. My shelf of books to read is threatening to push off my bookends. Among the topics I look forward to reading about: a natural history of evil, trees, feline evolution, linguistics, and a fantasy novel here and there. If I stopped shopping — online and off — I might have the time to get through more of them (and to blog more than once a week).

So, here’s the master plan. The next time I feel the urge to go shopping, I’m going to reference this list and choose something off it instead. If we can make our own lives happier and help the planet at the same time, it sounds like a major win-win to me.

Want to join me in replacing consumerism? Come up with your own list!

6 responses to this post.

  1. Shopping is annoying. Shortly after going to any store (except for food) I feel cranky, tired and have a headache. Maybe it’s the lighting – maybe the stores are draining. But I’ve realized that I don’t need most crap that they are trying to sell me.

    I love the idea about spending time with non-human friends🙂

    Reply

  2. […] It actually pisses me off that I’ve spent so much of my life shopping when I could have been doing any of the things that make me really happy to be alive. Although I like pretty things, I don’t actually like shopping very much. After half an hour in a store, I wander around in a headachey, indecisive daze. […]

    Reply

  3. […] foods, relying less on animal products, using fewer petroleum-based products, getting away from brainless consumerism, returning to lower yield but more sustainable fishing and agriculture practices. All that […]

    Reply

  4. […] perfect greenie, I’m not. I drive an older car that doesn’t get great mileage, my pottery hobby is anything but energy efficient, and it is entirely possible I will never be green enough to […]

    Reply

  5. Posted by northwestshift on 01/18/2011 at 12:15

    I’ve been considering taking a pottery class for quite some time. Maybe I’ll go ahead and sign up… Sounds wonderful!

    Reply

    • I really love it. I’ve done plenty of other crafty/artsy things, some of them fairly seriously, but pottery is my favorite by far. I think that if you love sensory details and working with your hands, you’ll find it incredibly rewarding.

      Reply

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