Posts Tagged ‘consumerism’

The Crankypants Guide to a Green Holiday

This is my idea of a Christmas tree. Photo credit: Humboldthead

Around this time of year, my Twitter feed explodes with things like, “Eco-friendly tree decorations!” and “Greenest stocking stuffers!” and “How to make eco-friendly tinsel out of Capri-Sun wrappers!” It’s all well-intentioned (or mostly; some of it is still trying to sell you stuff you don’t need and will never want), but at the same time, I have to wonder: how green can you really make the highest-impact, most wasteful holiday of the year by replacing things you don’t need with slightly lower impact versions of things you don’t need? 


Uh. Sorry. I think my Grinch is showing. But tongue firmly in cheek, I came up with a list of revised suggestions for a [more] eco-responsible[-ish] holiday. You know, for grouchpuss greenies. Extreme? Nah…

  • Be poor if you can possibly help it. (And if you can’t, I have to think that you’re not trying hard enough.) Poverty is the single best way to cut down on decorations, gift-giving, traveling, and impulsive holiday buys, like the bouncy inflatable Santa my neighbors down the street have. I’m finding that it also forces me to be more creative. Instead of buying stuff this year, I’m reusing, doing without, or coming up with creative workarounds and unusual presents (dress altering services, anyone?). Also, I hope you really, really like my pottery.
  • Stop traveling to see people you don’t like. Sharing DNA is not a good reason to spend your time or your carbon dioxide on people you can’t stand. I don’t recommend this as a networking strategy, but it works amazingly well if you want some extra time and peace for the holidays. And in the same vein:
  • Stop buying presents for people you don’t like. With regards to the people we don’t know well or like much, yet still feel obliged toward…can’t we just come to a non-gift agreement already? A plate of cookies and a card, maybe? A handshake to imply goodwill without the transfer of material goods?
  • Put off inessentials until the last minute. If you’ve waited till now to get up your Christmas lights, you might as well not do it at all because it’s so much effort for a two week show. I’ve had finals up until yesterday, so I’ve been putting off everything, with the end result that I am not likely to bake cookies, write cards, or make a mix CD this year. It’s okay. Every couple years is fine.
  • Try a non-meat-based holiday dinner. Taste-wise, Tofurky is somewhere between a rubber tire and a salt lick. But if you’re already feeling glutted (Thanksgiving was only a month ago) or guilty about the impact of your holiday ham, there are lots of tasty, meatless, or low-meat alternative holiday dinners. How about pumpkin and sage pot pies? A mushroom and tarragon pate? I have my eye on a couple of veggie holiday recipes to try this year.
  • Draw a line between doing things out of tradition and doing things that are meaningful to you. As the daughter of an angry ex-Catholic schoolgirl mother and a vaguely Confucian father, I can’t say that my family ever went all out for Christmas. But we did do the tree, the presents, the holiday ham. As a tree lover, I can’t bear the thought of cutting down a live tree just for decoration. As a tree hugger, I can’t see myself getting a fake tree. And as a vegetarian, I’m not about to go for the Christmas ham. So that leaves presents (but not many of them, because I’m poor), which I genuinely enjoy taking the time to choose or make, wrap, and give. Kevin and I also like to go for a drive in the redwoods on Christmas day, which isn’t very green, but has become a tradition that we’re willing to swap out others for.

My bottom line is the same as it usually is. Cut out the stuff that doesn’t actively, actually make you happy. Enjoy the stuff that does. And don’t let social expectations bully you into doing otherwise. Happy non-denominational winter holiday of choice!

I’m off school until the end of January, which is exciting because chemistry gobbled up all my brain bandwidth and left me gibbering about acid-base equilibria and stoichiometry and volumetric flasks. (You know this if you follow me on Twitter.) I have a few posts that I just haven’t had the brain space to write, so I’ll get those up and catch up with your blogs and resume normal functions until the next semester starts. Hope you’ve been well!

4 Questions to Ask Before Buying Anything

A quick update on my no shopping, no buying March experiment: things are going fairly well, though I slipped up once and bought some locally made artisan chocolates (we were the only people in the shop, and having accepted a free sample, I found there was no getting out of it graciously — not that I tried very hard). I’ve also window shopped socially twice — a craft fair with a friend, a used bookstore with Kevin. Nothing too egregious.

Mostly what I’m finding out is that not buying is a matter of attitude. Previously, when I needed anything, my first impulse would be to go out and get it. Not having that option is making me explore other possibilities before buying. I’m thinking this is a good habit to get into and may extend my experiment into April. Here are four questions that I’ve been asking myself whenever I want to buy something:

1. Do I really need it? (This question, by the way, is a lot easier to ask before you see something you desperately want, so avoiding temptation is a good precaution.)  I thought I needed a new oven mitt because the neoprene bit on mine seemed to be melting, but I do have another oven mitt and lots of pot holders. I thought I needed a super lightweight cardigan/wrap to keep mosquitoes away in Hawaii, then realized that most of my wardrobe is lightweight but long sleeved anyway. I’m getting better at telling the difference between what I want and what I need…and I realize, once again, that I don’t need much.

2. Can I make it? I cook, sew, and, er, potter. (There must be a better verb for ‘flinging mud around and shaping it into usable items.’) Between the three of those things, the answer is often yes. (And if not yes, that I can jerry-rig something that works fairly well.) Two of my favorite potter’s tools at the studio are what used to be the steel binding straps around a package and an Ikea butter knife with a bent tip, made by my teacher. What the heck am I doing buying $10 tools at Clay Planet?

3. Can I get it for free?  If I can’t make it, I might have friends who can and would be willing to swap. Or they might have it and be willing to lend or give it to me.  Then there’s always Freecycle and the library. I was tempted by a book at the used bookstore yesterday called The Concise Book of Lying, all about the ins and outs of this most interesting human phenomenon. I put it down when the brilliant thought occurred to me that I could probably borrow it from the library. The fact is, our society is brimming with free resources that we often don’t even think to draw upon.

4. How much of my life energy is it worth? This question is taken from Your Money or Your Life (join the book club going on at Min Hus if you’re curious). It makes the simple but important point that we put a lot of our lives and energy into earning money, so we’d better make sure that what we’re spending it on is worthwhile. Pottery is absolutely worthwhile to me. But a new dress that will spend most of its time in the closet? A new oven mitt? Not so much.

There are other questions, of course. Questions about the item’s impact, about my long term plans for it, about how ethically (or not) it was manufactured. All of them are worth keeping in mind, too, but these four questions are often enough for me to decide not to buy something, and everything else becomes superfluous.

If you’re cutting back on your buying, how do you do it? 

(Also, I’ve been thinking about either adding a page on this blog or starting a separate blog for my pottery. If you’re interested in keeping up with my projects, which form would you prefer? Here’s my latest…)

5 Ways to Fight a Shopping Addiction

This month, perhaps after watching the video above, I’ve gone and done something essentially un-American: I’ve declared March to be a no shopping, no buying month for me. Food and other essentials like toothpaste that allow me to function as a normal member of society are excepted. I’m not a shopaholic to begin with, and my primary vice is cruising a thrift store or two once a month, but I know I still shop for bad reasons. (Most reasons are bad reasons when I already have everything I need.)

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with shopping every now and then, but as a national pastime that is wreaking havoc on the environment, it deserves some increased attention. How much of our happiness do we bank in shopping? How do we get off this track of ever increasing consumerism?

As a solution-oriented INTJ, I carefully catalogued all the bad reasons why I shop — and what to do about them. Which of these reasons do you identify with?

Bad reason #1:  Boredom with what I currently have. A quintessentially first world confession: I get bored with my wardrobe. No doubt this has something to do with the fact that I wear solid color 3/4 sleeve tees and jeans almost every day. If I go shopping, I am likely to find a solid color 3/4 sleeve tee in a shade of green I don’t have, or with a slightly interesting neckline. If I am sufficiently bored, and it is $5 at the thrift store, I am likely to buy it.

Solutions: Swap clothes with friends or attend (or organize) a local swap meet. If I’m not up for the sociability of a swap meet, I can always dig through the back of my closet to try on what I rarely wear.

Bad reason #2: A desire to get out of the house. I’m a homebody, but every now and then, the urge to get out overcomes my essential inertia. The thrift stores are the nearest and cheapest activities, so they’re a clear temptation.

Solutions: Make a mental list of activities I enjoy more than shopping (including walking in the woods, seeing a friend, socializing shy kitties, and going to pottery) and do one of them whenever I feel tempted to go shopping. Even if they’re a little further or cost a little more, they definitely bring me more satisfaction. I need to make more conscious decisions about how to spend my time. Shopping should not be a hobby.

Bad reason #3: Dissatisfaction with some aspect of my life. Frustrating day at work? Argument with the spouse? Cat being mean to me? We’re trained to believe in consumer therapy, even though I know from real experience that shopping tends to leave me in an exhausted, indecisive, zombie-like state.

Solutions: Address the core issues instead of seeking temporary distraction. Hah! Easier said than done, of course. Back when I was living at home after college, my dad would say or do something that would make steam come out of my ears — just about every week. Instead of confronting him, I went out and bought lip balm. One tube every time he pissed me off. I’m still working through my stash, and I moved out years ago. My current dissatisfaction is mostly with my job. Instead of going shopping, I should put the time into looking for a different job.

Bad reason #4: Keeping up with the Joneses. I hate to say it, but I am ever so slightly susceptible. I have one particular friend that this happens with (it’s a two way process). We’re often interested in the same things, but once she’s gotten one (or I have), the other is much more likely to want it. This year it was sweater dresses. A couple years before that it was the Celtic Woman CDs. Before that it may have been slightly broken and ‘unadoptable’ cats. (Hello, Brie!)

Solutions: Be more conscious about how buying decisions fit in with existing needs and interests.  I ended up getting rid of the Celtic Woman CDs. They never aligned perfectly with my interests (acoustic folk music), and I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t actually like them very much. The sweater dress, on the other hand, is so comfortable and warm that I’ve been tempted to go to bed in it. It’s become one of my favorite winter wardrobe pieces.

Bad reason #5: Aspirational buying. I’m slightly ashamed to tell you how many pottery tools I have. In fact, I don’t even know the exact number. It’s a lot. I only use about five of them regularly. The others I bought for special projects, or because I thought they would do something they didn’t. For each of my hobbies, I’ve bought things based on aspirations I never actually carry out.

Solutions: Avoid ‘problem’ stores.  (Clay Planet for me, Michael’s for you?) Borrow tools from friends to test out before buying, buy only what I need for projects I have already started.

(?) Bad reason #6: Gift giving. This one, I think, I am least willing to fix. I enjoy giving presents, and I also enjoy looking for them. My gift list is short because I’m not close to many people, but I put a lot of effort into finding just the right things, and they’re usually well received.

Solutions: Switch to non-material presents like concert tickets, classes, meals out, and time spent together. Make more presents. Come to non-gift agreements with friends and family who are open to it.  When a material present is just right, compromise.

I believe shifting our time and energy away from consumerism can do a lot to make us happier and more fulfilled, and I’m putting my money where my mouth is. What are the bad reasons you shop? How do you deal with them?

%d bloggers like this: