The Consumption Conundrum

“America is where 5% of the world’s population uses over 30% of the earth’s natural resources.” ~ Annie Leonard

We love our stuff.  

A life of consumption is pretty awesome when you’re the consumer, especially if you live in Texas.  We live high on the hog, whether we can afford to or not, with pick-up trucks and SUV’s the standard one-driver vehicle, strip shopping centers and fast food convenience at every corner, recycling but an afterthought. Waste is rampant here.  Hip-high piles of garbage lay on curbs, awaiting the twice-per-week haul to the landfill.  It’s convenient — cheaper even — than sorting all that mess for reuse or recycle.

We are addicted to our stuff.

Our consumption percentages tell the story. It’s no wonder the rest of the world is either mad at us, trying to kill us, or destroying their own environment and risking life and limb to become us. Meanwhile, we change the channel, eat some cheap, yummy take-out, go do more shopping, and go into debt to keep the whole thing going.

Why not? It’s the American way, after all.

It’s work to manage stuff. 

As I sort through boxes of attic remnants, sorting household items that can be used again by someone else, tediously matching various game pieces and toy sets to be used again by less fortunate kids, I am satisfied at least all this remains free of the landfill for the meantime. Oh, sure, eventually, they will make it into the ground, or into the world’s oceans; practically none of it can be recycled. Plastics, full of toxins, used for only a short time by us and others, it would have been far better had they not even come to be in the first place.

Perhaps a paradigm shift is in order.

Stuff does not buy happiness, not even at Christmas.

StoryOfStuffThe act of not consuming is hardest at this time of the year. Clever advertising — capitalist propaganda — is constantly pushed into our eyes and ears. Our sole purpose, it seems, is to boost the all-important GDP before year’s end, and if we don’t buy, we are somehow valued less as people, bad parents even. This game misses the mark for so many families in America, never mind the millions of others affected by our consumptive habits outside our borders.

It’s time to look behind the curtain of where our stuff really comes from. (Pssst. Most of it isn’t even from America anymore.)

The Story of Stuff Project

Annie Leonard has a style and activism when it comes to consumption and waste reduction that puts my own to shame. Her presentation features the crux of the problem:  a linear materials economy with a finite resource input.  I wonder how many of us are really aware of its impact on our environment, our neighbors — our very selves.  It’s a fun and educational 20-minutes, no matter whether you love your stuff, are addicted to your stuff, or have already been liberated from your stuff.

The Story of Solutions

If you’d like to know how you can break the cycle, watch another short video highlighting a solution to the materials economy:  trading GDP with Better as the goal.  It may be hard to accomplish alone, but working together, it can be done.  And it sure beats letting nature accomplish its solution for us down the line.

Think before you buy. Our world is smaller
and more fragile than you think.

18 thoughts on “The Consumption Conundrum

  1. You have no idea how much this post resonates with me. This is exactly why I really just don’t do Christmas anymore. I don’t need stuff…but many people just do not understand when I say that.


    1. It’s refreshing to see that many more people around me are coming on board. This is our 3rd annual ‘Christmas That Wasn’t’ (pingback in the comments below), and we have not yet regretted it!


  2. The perfect time of year to ruminate on our material conundrum. Thanks for this great reminder! I am trying more to practice ecologically sound choices and actually recycle trash items. You my hero!


    1. To the rest of our family, we are the World’s Crappiest Parents. LOL It doesn’t matter. There are plenty of other non-consumptive ways to celebrate the season and the ones we love. Cheers, Paul!


    1. Aw, Jennifer. If there’s anyone who cares about zero waste, it’s you! So nice that you pop by to let me know you’re still with it. I always look forward to your posts. You’ll be back to it in no time. Cheers, Lady!


  3. Yup, the only necessary gift is one that can improve the future for this next generation, not further pollute it… For the family, give the gift of togetherness.. A family project to improve the home you share, reduce your pollution from winter heating: build a solar air heater and look into Okapi fan control systems: educational, sustainable, smart-tech and for their future!


    1. Thank you, Meridith, for taking the time to share ideas and products here. Traditional homeowner’s associations will need to come on board with certain technologies to bring better heating solutions (like solar convection) to older homes. Okapi is one system that necessarily would be restricted — because of the neighborhood deed on “looks.”

      We need a complete paradigm shift. As long as natural gas continues to be both abundant and cheap in Texas — and environmental impacts continually ignored at the production level — it will, sadly, continue to be the predominant heating energy. It’s past time to apply pressure at local level. I will do what I can to remedy that.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s the “if we don’t buy we are bad parents” piece that I struggle with the most. I am extremely comfortable with the idea of buying much less and buying with conscious effort this time of year – and that is all my kids have ever known me to do (ahem, Santa, sorry). The struggle is with family and friends who feel “sorry” for my kids and feel the need to “make up for it” by purchasing them ridiculous amounts of needless stuff my kids don’t use longer than a month if even that long. I’ve tried to make it stop. Even made the comparison that if they were dieting and I brought over dozens of cookies would they feel like I’m sabotaging their efforts? Christmas is yet another time for me to remember what I can and can’t control and use it as a learning tool for my kids.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We enjoy a similar dilemma. We work hard not to indulge our children, but yet the “gifts” come anyway. You can’t always stop others from wanting to give stuff. With many of those gifts, we re-gift again or take the brand-new, unused item to a “white elephant” or otherwise find someone who needs it more (women’s shelters, veterans, etc.).

      It would be so much easier if everyone else would get on board with the new game! Someone’s precious time or an experience of some kind is more treasured by me than a physical “thing” that must be consumed or trashed. Thanks for taking the time to comment, MyHonestSelf. 😀

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Our daughter just finished opening presents today. We got her a toothbrush (“pink! With a kitty on it!”) and playdough tools, and playdough (the tubs for which will be filled with homemade play dough when this is dried out in no time flat.) I asked for clothes and books for the kids, which they got. But then everyone “still wanted to get them toys, it is Christmas after all…”
        and so we go through the gifts and save some for birthday parties later in the year, or for a rainy day eight months down the road, and go through the current stock to find those things to pass along to the next person…
        I asked for experience gifts this year. Swim lessons or little gymnastics drop ins. But instead, we got more stuff. At least people still seem to slightly listen to the “no batteries” rule…slightly.


      2. ‘Experience gifts.’ I wish more people would value these! They help boost jobs without the need for so much waste. I think others are projecting their own wants; they know stuff doesn’t buy happiness, but it does buy instant attention.

        Ugh. Batteries. LOL. Hope yours was a Christmas to remember, A!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Your site looks great Shannon and another great post. Will check out the video a bit later. Even if our hearts want us to step away from it all, it remains a conundrum. Very timely and looking forward to hearing what others have to say.


    1. Oh, Lisa, I think I know what the rest of the world will say! I am hit by naysayers daily just within my own family and friend circles. I am a fish out of water down here, but I remain hopeful. You will especially enjoy the 2nd video, give that you probably are already doing what you can in other facets of your life to lessen the waste stream. Cheers, and thanks for coming by!

      Liked by 1 person

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