Three Steps To Reduce Your Consumption

I’m not here to shit on anyone’s Target habit, but I imagine most of my readers agree with me that lowing our overall consumption is a good idea.

Consuming less lowers our environmental impact. Less consumption usually means less spending, and most folks like having more money or less debt. At a personal level, many people just find it really satisfying to buy less and do more for themselves, with their own hands. Gardening, sewing, home repair, baking your own bread, hanging your own laundry: all consumption-busting acts that have been described to me as meditative or calming or grounding.

But how do you actually reduce your consumption? Telling the average American hooked on the treadmill of CPCFC (that’s Cheap Plastic Crap From China, by the way) to lower their stuff consumption is kinda like telling an alcoholic to reduce their drinking. Easier said than implemented.

I was thinking about this as I was, irony of ironies, unloading my car after a shopping trip at Costco. I was looking at the organic sugar and the organic butter and the organic bananas and the organic lemons (“What! Costco has organic lemons now?!”) in the box I carried in to the house.

I was thinking how even though it still really does feel like we still consume an awful lot in this family, we’ve come so far from where we were a decade ago. Our spending has really changed.

A few examples.

  • Our first child was in disposable diapers. Our second child, six years later, was in American-made cloth diapers.
  • Over the past two years we’ve converted nearly every light in our home to LED. We still buy lightbulbs – we’re not so far into this homesteader thing that we illuminate our evenings with homemade candles made from the tallow of a cow we raised – but we we buy different lightbulbs.
  • I used to buy both “regular” and “good” paper napkins (the good ones had seashells embossed on them) and toss them about casually at dinner or lunch, or if something spilled and the paper towels (!) weren’t as close at hand. Now the only paper consumable we buy (other than, well, paper) is toilet paper. We aren’t family cloth people…yet.

Just as waste reduction has a catchy phrase marketing for a hierarchy of techniques – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – so to should Consumption Reduction.

I propose: Re-think, Reduce, Re-sourse.

Consumption Reduction

Re-Think

I am a proponent of what I call “values based spending.” If you think about it – and I mean really think about it – and you decide you value it, and if you can afford it, then I have absolutely no problem with folks spending money per se.

But most people are pretty well trained by a very effective, well-funded, sophisticated marketing industry to not think about what they are buying. Or, at least to only think about what the marketeers want them to think about.

  • “Buying this nutrition bar will make me thin and desirable. (I.e., will get me laid.)”
  • “Buying this fancy watch will make people think I am sophisticated.  (I.e., will get me laid.)”
  • “Buying this beer will make bikini-clad women show up at my pool party. Boobs!  (I.e, will get me laid.)”

And so the first step is to re-think our consumption and re-occupy our own brains from the ad industry.

Asking the question, “Why do I really want this?“ is a pretty effective technique for getting to the real motivation behind our purchases. I’m not perfect by a long stretch, but slowly, slowly my practical spending is more often aligned with my true values.

Reduce

Reduce, aka “Just Buy Less Shit.” In my experience, the act of consistently asking “Why do I really want this?” often leads to the conclusion, “Actually, I really don’t.” When you de-couple your consumption from a societal expectation of how you should consume, just buying less shit is far, far easier.

Reducing what you consume often means doing more for yourself. The time and energy you aren’t using to buy and consume has to get replaced somehow, even if it’s just with more time to relax.

I’m far more interested in pursuing an active hobby like gardening than spending my time keeping up with the latest fashions at the mall, but that’s me. Those are my values, and that’s also why I only buy clothes about every five years. But because I’m biased, I suspect a lot of people would find garden-time more fulfilling than mall-time, if only they had a good long re-think about it.

We can reduce in other ways too. I live in a very walkable place for a reason: I really like walking, and I go on foot nearly everywhere I can. This reduces fuel consumption, and since I drive a decidedly high-consumption vehicle (good for hauling straw, rock, compost and chicken feed but less good for saving gas) every little footstep is important.

And so it is with reducing: every little footstep is important.

Re-source

There are consumption items that are going to make it through the first two hurdles of re-thinking and reducing. Things like food, toothpaste, clothing, heat, light.

And this is where I think the idea of re-sourcing is so important. I used to chuck a 4-pack of Colgate Whatever into the Costco cart when we were low on toothpaste. Now, baking soda does the job for me and Homebrew Husband and I buy the happy hippie Tom’s of Maine stuff at the Co-op for the kids. I still buy baking soda. I still consume something to clean my teeth. But I have found a different, more sustainable source for my dental care needs.

I think about this a lot with the chickens and the eggs they give us. I definitely don’t “make” money in any objective way on those eggs, but I’ve re-sourced the allocation of my funds. I used to spend several hundred dollars a year buying compost – sometimes bulk but often in plastic bags. I also bought eggs. Now, I don’t buy eggs or (much) compost, but I do buy organic chicken feed from a local company and straw from a local feed store.

I’ve re-sourced that spending so that it’s more in line with my values.

More personal thoughts on re-sourcing.

  • I still shop at Costco, but I buy less and very different things than I did a decade ago.
  • I’m out of honey, so tomorrow I’ll walk across the street to my neighbor who keeps bees and see if he’s got any honey in storage I can buy.
  • When we buy gifts for friends or family, or go out to eat, we typically spend those dollars in our small town, supporting our beloved downtown core. God willing, Toys-R-Us will never get another dollar of my money, ever.

You see what I mean with this? I do still buy stuff. I’m still a consumer in the sense that I still consume food and goods and services – we all do, to some degree or another. But the money I do spend is flowing in different directions than it used to.

Once you distill down to the point where you are going to consume and it’s just a question of how, then it’s about re-sourcing so your consumption reflects the values from your re-thinking.

Re-think, Reduce, Re-source. What do you think – does this capture the essence of a lower consumption lifestyle for you?

Comments

  1. Go cash. Credit cards may be easier for you but they cost your local merchant a surprising amount of money.

  2. Ah, Erica, you LEAD by example. You are my hero!

  3. Uplinkmike says:

    You are too talented a writer to use vulgarisms. Disappointed.
    Uplinkmike

    • Erica is just a classy lady who also happens to say shit a lot.

      These are not mutually exclusive.

      ::salutes::

    • @uplinkmike- it really isn’t very nice or ‘your place’ to try to “correct” someone’s behavior (i.e. the alleged vulgarisms) in a public forum. If you are disappointed, don’t follow the blog anymore. I’ve recently read several bloggers posts about people who feel the need to criticize them, and it is completely out of line! If you can’t say anything nice…..

  4. Wendy Myers says:

    Best post ever. I remember when people used to make fun of me when I recycled.
    Former NW resident and lover of all things NW.
    Wendy

  5. Alise Hansen says:

    Great article Erica! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog. I feel like if I lived in your neighbourhood/state/county we would trade vegetables and have canning parties. Over the last few years I have become a huge fan of the ‘swap’. Have cloths, art supplies, books, you name it you don’t want – get together with a group of friends and trade them for things you want. Things get re-used (reusing has a huge impact on less consumption) and there’s no need for credit cards or even cash.

  6. I wish very much that we had a Costco in our area, but the closest one is two hours away. I have gone back and forth with myself about the Sam’s Club, which my mother and grandparents love, but I hate Wal-mart and don’t want to contribute to them. I finally decided I would at least check the prices. I went in with a list of our staples, and what I pay for them at our locally owned grocery store chain (No stores outside of Kentucky, Tennessee or Virginia, the main office is in the town just north of here, and I worked for them for a year and a half in college and I know they treat their employees like family.) Turns out that my local store brand is still cheaper! If you’re only going to buy the big name brands, Sam’s will save you money, but they can’t touch my store brand. I suspect the same thing is true of Costco.

    • Oh! In gushing about my grocery store, I forgot to mention that they buy all their fresh produce and meat from local farmers. They even have pictures of the guys and their families up, telling you exactly where (which farmer, what county) your veggies come from. :)

  7. Erica, thank you for your consistent, excellent, postings. I completely agree with value based buying and a lot people think we’re old fashioned. But I prefer to put my money into things that are for the family’s well-being rather than into electronic toys and gadgets.

  8. I looked at my supper table last night (my husband cooked as I didn’t get home until later) and we had a crockpot roast from a steer we had butchered, home canned baked beans and home canned sugarless cole slaw, and the cabbage and onions had come from the garden. That was pretty cool.

  9. Thanks for your comments on value-based buying. Everyone, no matter their level of commitment to sustainability, needs to keep these principles in mind. I think you reach the heart of the matter by speaking from the heart. We can all learn from this.

  10. Stacy Kihlstrom says:

    Well said :)

  11. Very timely post now that many are looking at their credit card bills & trying to figure out how to pay off their holiday purchases. Speaking of saving $ and reducing consumption you may want to read Mr. Money Mustache’s blog from Colorado. http://www.mrmoneymustache.com

  12. Creation trumps consuming everytime! I have so much more energy after making or re-purposing something than if I just ran out to the store to mindlessly buy. And you’re spot-on with value-based consuming – we all consume things, but aligning your choices with your heart and life is a way to increase quality of life.

  13. Awesome thoughts to help us each re-think where we are and where we’re going (and why).

    Yes, we don’t really keep chickens to save us money, as the feed still costs something – we keep them so we know where our eggs are coming from, how fresh they are, and how the chickens were treated. And, it’s a great life lesson for the kids (ours and the neighbor kids). Fresh eggs also make a lovely hostess gift. :)

    About losing the paper napkin habit – we’ve got several napkin rings – each different. Each family member claimed their favorite one. Now the cloth napkins are ready to go by each place setting and get reused until they need to be tossed in the laundry. We’ve been doing this for years and greatly prefer cloth to paper.

  14. Jennifer G says:

    I like re-think, reduce, re-source. It does sum it up well. Bea at zerowastehome.com says instead of the usual three Rs, use these five: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot. Her perspective is about decreasing waste. But her concept begins with decreasing consumption, like you said.

    • Yes. I was going to mention Bea also. It might be hard to re-think, reduce, and re-source things we think we want. But refusing things we *don’t* want ought to be a no-brainer!

      There’s a bit of peer pressure, but I found it’s satisfying to avoid clutter by saying, “No, we don’t need a bag.” “No, I don’t need a hand-out”. “No, I don’t need that souvenir pin/pen/pad”. And calling up companies to get off of their catalog and mailing lists has dramatically reduced the amount of garbage that goes straight from my mailbox and into my recycling can.

  15. I love your acronym for Chinese crap! if only I could convince the grandparents that the dollar store and 5 below are pure evil. We’ve tried politely asking and not so politely insisting that they are sending our children the wrong message. It goes into a bag within 48 hours, then donated to school for the prize box — they never miss any of it!

  16. Thanks Erica, for confirming our choices and teaching us something new all the time. I encourage you to go the “family cloth” way–or at least partially anyway. The two girls in our family repurpose old t-shirts cut into neat squares for number one only. Pretty simple with a basket for clean, bucket with lid for damp, both tucked in the corner–saves a surprising amount of t.p. and visitors have never asked about it.

    • I’ve done old rags for number red only…. the bits of old shirts and pants I haven’t repurposed for quilt or string projects, and I straight up throw away when I’m done, because, I guess I’m not over the ew factor yet.

      Works sooo well for low flow days and is SOO much more comfortable. I really don’t think I’m to washing it yet though, for anything, partly because all my laundry happens at the laundromat, in varying amounts of being public.

  17. Hi Erica—
    You’ve got me cracking up….AGAIN. I’m still giggling over the visual (in my head) of you attempting to “swoosh” with chunks of coconut oil. And, now, you bring on some more. As I’m now in my 60s (I am one of those “happy hippy” folks….been making everything from scratch forever….grandmas taught me canning and baking) I’m not worrying too much about getting laid, but I do love all the R’s! It makes a huge difference and definitely brings much greater security in all our life arenas as well as for the world. Kudos!!!

  18. Hi there, I have been reading your blog for a while now and find it inspiring, interesting and honestly human. Im just commenting to say keep up the wonderful work and thank you. I am from Australia and although we are not in such a scary state yet it seems that we are heading that way with farmers wanting to go to GM seeds regardless of the scary stories we hear coming out of America, I read the other day that corn in America is now classed as a pesticide due to its genes. Scary. So than you for making a difference.

  19. Very thoughtful, Erica. The growth-at-all-costs economic model just doesn’t make sense to me. But the idea isn’t to halt the economy by buying less, either. It’s to be more thoughtful about where and how we spend our money, to vote with our dollars for the kind of sustainable economy we can live with for a long time. I used to buy into the fear-mongering about protectionism, but now I do embrace “buy American” because it’s easier to see now the ramifications of all manufacturing jobs going overseas. Not just unemployment at home, but unimaginable levels of pollution in China, and unforgivably low labor standards in many countries. I wish for those countries their own home-grown economic revolutions of entrepreneurship, small farms, family businesses, local economies, and international trade for the things we can’t make locally.

  20. Hey – love this post – even though I just bought a couple things from Target! :) I’ve actually gone the opposite direction, from really conservative (all cloth diapers for all my kids, no Kleenexes or paper towels, all second hand clothing, etc, etc.) to a little more moderate. I buy Kleenexes now and again. I used to use Tom’s of Maine toothpaste til I figured out that was what made us all get canker sores (due to the SLS) and Nature’s Gate shampoos til I figured out that was what made my hair fall out. SLS again? Who knows??!! Anyway, I’m still careful, still a little “crunchy” but I don’t torture myself any more either. :)

    • There was a pretty awesome blog post a while back that went around. I think it was called, “Is your sustainable life sustainable?” – something like that. It talked about how we have to set up the balance that works long term. The 99% solution with crazy guilt about everything and burnout is not better than the 80% solution that we can maintain. That’s my take, anyway, based on my experience.
      EDIT: Found it. Turns out it was written by one of my favorite bloggers. http://apronstringz.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/is-your-sustainable-life-sustainable/

  21. What a great idea to name it “re-sourcing”. I’ve been really focused on our purchases and consumption habits and have been sort of obsessed with with making it more efficient and purposeful. Now I have a name for it!

  22. Way cool, Erica, you are right, as the Beatles so stated (“Can’t Buy Me Love”), so, no, you aren’t shitting [UplinkMike - or is it UptightMike? would like it as poop-dump-crap-defecate or other scatologic reference hereinafter incorporated] on others’ consumer habits. The best shit, is of course, Holy Shit, as Gene Logsdon has so eloquently elaborated in his s0-titled book, which is now a college textbook. Spending smarter may lead to a more sustainable budget plan, likely leading to better debt management. Re-use ideas abound, especially for home gardening, as attested to in Annie’s Kitchen Garden (annieskitchengarden.blogspot.com), just to mention one of thousands, including yours. I genuinely apologize if I have inadvertently transgressed Wheaton’s Law here, but we high-five you about the CPCFC!

  23. Also, Costco treats their people really well. People are often overlooked when it comes to the triple bottom line of “people, profit, planet.”

    • On of my heroes, Lisa Kivirist, talks about the triple bottom line frequently. It’s really the key to something sustainable on a larger social level.

  24. I like your new RRR’s.
    I actually had an interesting conversation with my friend about the first one. (My values align very similarly with yours, I imagine) She feels that I “think” about everything I do and buy too much. That if I buy paper towels I have to ponder and evaluate whether or not I need them, if they’re wasteful, and if I can come up with a more sustainable solution. She said I do this for everything – and I get the gist that she finds it more than a tad annoying. I don’t really mind thinking through everything, but her opinion certainly helped me reiterate my passion for doing things the Mustachian way.

    Cabbage too-early starts under grow lights totally failed, by the way. Clearly I don’t always think through things properly…ha!

  25. Frugal by nature, I have had to become even more resourceful by necessity (still job hunting 2 years after I was laid off). There are a few things I buy at Costco (when the goat(s) aren’t lactating, I find that Costco’s milk last much longer than the grocery store’s), but I can’t remember the last time I bought anything at Target or Walmart.

    I spin my own yarn from my own flock, knit and weave, harvest my eggs and milk from the back yard. At least half of the meat I consume came from my animals or those of friends. I’m starting to make cheese too. Being even partially self-sufficient is a lot of work, but it is so satisfying.

  26. So, to go back to the beginning, perhaps if we had more sex we’d feel the need for less stuff. I think you are definitely on to something there. “More nookie, less consumie” So telling hubby we need to look at our spending habits. I have problems with my Mother’s excessive buying for the kid. This year asking for American made, it will slow her down.

    • Oh, and only buy 100% recycled TP. It is harder to do than it should be, Trader Joe’s (best price on Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap too), one brand at most stores, and Costco if you want the industrial roll and happen to have the dispenser (might save some marital disputes). But wiping one’s posterior on virgin fiber, not cool. Can’t imagine cloth at this point, but each small action leads to big. Even if it is just TP.

    • “More nookie, less consumie” – …and I think we have a new tagline, folks.

  27. All true Erica. But….doing everything myself, repurposing, growing, fixing etc and not spending much time shopping has freed up my time for, let’s face it, a craplaod of work. Sometimes (often), I am just so weary of all the work. Ma and Pa Ingalls didn’t know it could get any easier than what they did. but we’ve all emerged from Plato’s cave now. Sometimes it just sucks to have so much work, a lot of it is not fun, it’s just chores. there are says when you can glory in living in the seasons, but lofty ideals and being a do-gooder gets old on other days. Yet I find it morally impossible for me to go back to leading a normal American life.

  28. (I.E. it will get me laid) LMFAO…

    like the plastic mainstream entertainment crap pile shoved down people’s throats. even the fake news has fake appearance, along with made up fairy tales to sell some hideous agenda.

Trackbacks

  1. […] I read the Northwest Edible Life blog regularly. The blogger Erica writes about things that make sense to me in a very straightforward, practical way. Her most recent post “Three Steps To Reduce Your Consumption” pretty much aligns exactly with my way of living – or at least with my values. You may find this to be an interesting read. http://www.nwedible.com/2014/01/reduce-your-consumption.html […]

Your participation makes this whole thing work, so join in! Comment policy: Wheaton's Law enforced here.

*